Cá Đối | Grey Mullet

Every time I see fresh grey mullet, I always buy them.

When I go to the beach, I buy lots of them for the freezer. In the supermarket, I sometimes see them, but I am not sure if they have been soaked in preservatives or not.

Cá Đối
Fresh off the net. We often leave the scales on for young mullets, and just fry them whole.

Their flesh is very “lành” – never seen anyone allergic to grey mullet fish – you people say you can feed them to young children (you just have to be careful in taking out all the bones).

Found where the river meets the ocean, or all around the shorelines of Vietnam, there are two kinds you can find:

– The round-bodied ones: they look like silvery tubes.

– The flat bodied ones: the bodies look a bit flat. You can see how fatty they are compared to the round-bodied ones.

Always go for the flat bodied mullets. They are much tastier.

Grilling fresh grey mullet with my uncle
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After descaling, they are ready to go. These mullets are from Phan Thiet. They are bigger than the river version. The one at the bottom carries a lot of roe – which is a prized delicacy all over the world. But the meat of roe mullet is not very sweet.

The super-fresh mullets, you can “làm gỏi” (ceviche salad) – it has a sweet, crunchy texture, beautiful. My mom likes to “kho” them with a little fish sauce, or make soup in the summer.

My uncles and I like them grilled on the charcoal. We sometimes carry a jug of rice wine to the beach, and spend a few bucks for the fishermen for 1-2 kilo of the young mullets, and nhậu into the sunset, between swims. Grey mullets never leave you feel heavy stomach. Rather, it makes you feel great inside.

Pot Shrimps -Tôm Đất

How Vietnamese like to eat their fresh shrimps: boiled and with salt/pepper with a little dash of lime and some chillies for heat. When you boil, just boil enough until it's translucent. We are talking about 2 mins, max.
How Vietnamese like to eat their fresh shrimps: boiled and with salt/pepper with a little dash of lime and some chilies for heat. When you boil, just drop them in soft-boiling water enough until it’s translucent. We are talking about 2 mins, max.

 

Tom Dat
Just add beer

I love the pot shrimps of Ba Ria and greater Vung Tau/Phan Thiet region. They are called “Tôm Đất” – literally translated as “earth shrimps” as fishermen like to believe they are born out of the earth on rainy days.

You can find them all around the South – from Cà Mau (I have had them there, too – charbroiled with ton of rice wine with some farmers) .  Sometimes people travel from Cần Giờ to Saigon to sell them at the morning markets, so you can look for them  there. But I still like the ones in my hometown best because I always get them alive and jumping on early mornings taking a stroll down the beach or biking along the river.

You can not farm them. No one has tried. You will not find them in supermarkets, because of their limited quantity and most Vietnamese people will not buy “Tôm Đất” if they are dead.

They are small – the size of your pinky finger. In Phan Thiet, they grow a little bigger towards November and full of red roe around that time. They are also called “Tôm Chì” because of their lead-color shell. There are no stripes. On the shell, you can see some tiny spots like salt and pepper. The shells are hard, which makes for an easy peel.

When you walk down the fish/shrimps aisle of your local markets in Vietnam, you might see a merchant next to a bucket of live shrimp – look inside and see if you recognize the little Pot Shrimps as described. If it’s Tom Dat, grab at least a kilo. Pick only the live ones.

People eat them boiled, charcoal-grilled (each one grill his own), gỏi (ceviche salad with lots of lime), peeled and dropped into soups. Never try to deep fry them like with white shrimps or Tiger, because the hard shells would make for an unpleasant textures.

Or – you can do it like the locals do: boil quickly, eat quickly, dash of lime and salt/pepper/chilies, with beer.

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This is not a picture of a Tôm Đất but some wild-caught  red-legged shrimp from Phu Quoc island. Now that’s another kind of famous shrimps due to its super-sweet taste and special roe.
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Fresh off the nets in Phan Thiet. This is Tom Dat.  Note the dark colors and small sizes.
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Tom Dat two ways: sashimi-styled, and boiled. Even the fishermen of Vietnam, who have never been to a Japanese sushi restaurants, would advise you that “Tôm Đất”  is OK to eat raw and no other kind of shrimps deserves this special treatment. I have seen one pop one in the mouth off the fishing net to demonstrate his point. For sashimi, I usually peel them, then wash them twice: once in a salted water solution, then use a chopstick to rinse in a bowl of drinking water + crushed ice + 1 table spoon of salt + 1 shot of sake for taste, then pat dry. If you are careful, you can also freeze them for 24 hours before eating them.