For a long time, ca keo, or keo fish, has been a favorite dish of many citizens of Saigon. Talking about it, what first comes to mind is lau ca keo, or keo fish hotpot.
Others, such as grilled or fried keo fish, always are secondary so that it seems through people's culinary experience keo fish has become tied to hotpot as if the fish was born just to be put into one!
Ca keo is a kind of fish that is around 10 to 15 centimeters long and as big as a thumb. Because it lives only in the brackish water region, there are many keo fish in the flooding season in the southern provinces.
Interestingly, keo fish are vegetarian eating mangrove roots and other plants found in nature. Thus, of course, we cannot catch them by going fishing with worms or the like as bail.
Their eating habits may be the reason why their meat tastes different from other fish. Ca keo is very delicious - mostly sweet tasting and just a little bitter.
In keo fish hotpot, the broth is the most important. Usually each restaurant prepares it slightly different than the next.
But the indispensable ingredient in all is la giang, a kind of leaf of the southern provinces. The leaf makes the broth a little bit sour and creates the dish's typical smell.
The keo fish's skin is rather slimy so that it is usually cleaned with ash or salt water in the kitchen before it is put into the hotpot. However, to please those diners who like proof that their dish is freshly made, some restaurants keep the keo fish alive and then put it into the boiling hotpot right at the table! Then diners wait until the hotpot boils again before savoring their meal.
Keo fish hotpot is often served with noodles and some kind of vegetables. Essential is rau dang, a kind of vegetable growing abundantly in the southern provinces.
It is said that without rau dang, the keo fish hotpot is only half as tasty! The sour taste of the broth and the bitter taste of rau dang both work together to make the dish more delicious and different from other fish hotpots.
To enjoy the dish, diners can take some noodles into their bowls, boil some vegetables in the hotpot, add them to the noodles in the bowl and finally submerge everything in as much broth as desired. Just like that, it is ready to eat!
The keo fish should be eaten while it is still hot. A little fish sauce with some slices of hot chili is a must-have side dish. Letting the sweet and bitter taste of the keo fish meat and the salty taste of the fish sauce and the hot chili mix, diners feel as if a rod was lashing their tongues.
Last but not least, a glass of beer or wine to accompany the keo fish hotpot makes the meal more delicious!
In addition, keo fish can be scrumptious when it is fried or dried. Then it is often dipped into a bowl of mam me, or fish sauce with tamarind, a typical way of the southerners.
In HCMC, some restaurants, as well as entire streets specialize in keo fish hotpot. Two ca keo hotpot streets are Su Thien Chieu Street in District 3, near Xa Loi Pagoda, and Nguyen Thi Dieu Street, just a few blocks farther.
The price of the dish depends on the pot's size. But spending about VND70,000 per pot, you can be sure you and some others will be full.
VIETNAMNET - (27/06/2006)