Just to be clear – this dish is definitely not for the weak-hearted, or is it? Despite the word snakehead in its menu, Ca Loc Nuong Trui doesn’t actually use a snake’s head to grill on a skewer. (Isn’t that a relief?)
The dish is a famous Vietnamese fish cuisine made with Snakehead Fish. The dish itself is pretty simple, a fish grilled on a skewer, served with condiments, and it is most typically eaten with rice. It’s rustic food, but it is definitely mouth-watering.
What is Snakehead Fish
The snakehead fish is a freshwater fish commonly found in Africa and Asia. They are shaped almost like an eel or a catfish and can grow up to 3ft in length. The snakehead is frequently used as a source of food because it is easy to treat. It doesn’t have any scales, and it contains a lot of meat.
A snakehead fish weighing between 700-800 g is commonly used to make the Ca Loc Nuong Trui. This is because the fish does not have scales, so one only needs to rub the fish with a few spices before putting it onto skewers for grilling.
Dried straw is usually used to cover the fish completely while grilling to prevent the smokiness from rubbing off onto the flesh. In the Mekong Delta River, the grilled snakehead fish is served with tamarind fish sauce and fresh salad on the side.
The Story of Ca Loc Nuong Trui
The Ca Loc Nuong Trui is a famous dish in South Vietnam. It originated from the Mekong Delta River and still remains to be one of the specialities in the area. Traditionally, it is a comfort food made by farmers after a hard day at work.
Back in the day, the men would catch fish from the river while the women would pick vegetables and prepare the sauce. To get the best Snakehead fish, farmers would have to wait for the right season. Typically, the snakehead fish will flock around the Mekong Delta River after the monsoon season. The size of the snakehead fish will determine how evenly it cooks. The perfect size for this dish is one that is no bigger than the size of an adult arm.
To ensure its freshness, only fish that is caught on the same day should be used for cooking.The farmers would prepare the fish by sticking it onto the skewer, filling the fish’s mouth with water and burying it in a dry haystack before lighting it on fire.
The water helps to cook the meat on the inside while the dry hay prevents smokey flavours from sticking to the flesh. When the fish is cooked, the farmers will scrape the burned skin to reveal the fragrant white meat.
Once the fish is ready, it is typically served on a banana leaf with condiments that include salt and chilli, tamarind fish sauce and garlic chilli sauce. The farmers would usually sit surrounding the dish and enjoy it together using their hands. In modern times, while it is still common to enjoy the fish on its own, some prefer to have it with rice.
Where to get Ca Loc Nuong Trui in Malaysia
If you can’t travel to the Mekong Delta River but still want to taste grilled Snakehead fish, head over to Renaissance Kuala Lumpur Hotel and enjoy their full snakehead fish in bamboo or try the Claypot Ca Loc from Lucky Quan Vietnamese restaurant located in Sri Desa Entrepreneur Park. They also do delivery on foodpanda!