Follow Us on Twitter
Rau Om

Promote Your Page Too

Gỏi cá trích (Vietnamese sardine ceviche)

It’s bothered us for a while that we can make Latin American ceviche but we had no idea how to make Vietnamese ceviche (gỏi cá). This past weekend, we set out to correct this imbalance.

We wanted to learn to make the dish as traditionally as possible so it was time to read up on recipes. Google searches turned up many recipes and instructions in Vietnamese that were all over the place. As we did more searches into this dish, we were struck by how a dish could be quintessentially Vietnamese (lots and lots of greens and herbs in a rice paper roll) and yet unique among its peers (wetting rice paper in coconut milk anyone?). We decided to draw on the common and/or interesting elements from the recipes that we found. So, consider this a best practice review (as Lamp would put it) or a high-level synthesis (my way of describing it) (can you guess the fields we are in yet? :D).

For the fish: we bought whole sardines. The fish mongers cleaned the fish for us, but we had to fillet them ourselves. We marinated sardines fillets in lime juice (~5′), then drained and squeezed out the juice from the fillets (care should be taken not to mush the fillets). We saved this juice to make dipping sauce. Sardine fillets were then mixed with minced ginger, garlic, galanga (riềng) and roasted rice powder (thính). We marinated fish fillets for a few hours in the fridge.

For the dipping sauce: we added coconut soda/juice (or water) to the fish marinade saved earlier, then added fish sauce, sugar and lime juice to taste. Then minced garlic, chili peppers and roasted peanuts were added to complete the sauce.

For the greens: as many herbs and vegetables as possible. When this dish is served in Viet Nam, the fish is accompanied not only by herbs but also by many different types of young leaves gathered in the backyard and/or forest. We didn’t quite know how to forage in the wild yet, so had to resort to foraging at the farmers’ market and an Asian supermarket. After a long walk through these 2 markets, we ended up with the following:

  • dandelion greens
  • 2 types of young kales
  • húng cây (spearmint)
  • kinh giới (Vietnamese balm)
  • rau răm (Vietnamese coriander)
  • rau om (rice paddy herbs)
  • bean sprouts
  • chuối chát (plantain)
  • khế (starfruit)
  • kiwi (for sourness, since we only found 1 starfruit at the market and it didn’t look like it’d be sour)

(Did we mention this was a quintessentially Vietnamese dish? This list isn’t much longer than a standard list of greens that typically accompany a dish involving rolling food in rice paper)

Oh, and don’t forget the coconut: diluted coconut milk (1:10) for wetting rice paper and coconut meat for inclusion in the rice paper rolls. The recipes called for roasted grated coconut, which we forgot to get, so we made do with the tender flesh of the young coconut instead. It was fine – grated coconut would assert itself more forcefully as a distinct textural component, but roasted young coconut flesh was rich and flavorful. A new ingredient to work with!

Phew, that was it for preparations. This is what the spread looked like:

gỏi cá trích spread

The glass of wine contained nước sim (hill gooseberry juice) mixed with shochu. Most of our working recipe is adapted from the gỏi cá style practiced in Phú Quốc, where sim fruits are plentiful and rượu sim (sim liquor) is a local delicacy. We would love to get our hands on authentic sim liquor someday, but the faux rượu sim paired very well with gỏi cá.

When we finally sat down, made our rolls, dipped them in dipping sauce, and took our bites, we encountered a riot of flavors. Our taste buds definitely had to work overtime with each bite given the incredible blend of flavors: spicy galanga and fragrant roasted rice commingling with the strong fish flavor of sardines, floral flavor of rau om, savoriness and creaminess of roasted coconut, bitterness of dandelion greens, leafiness of young kales, sweet fruitiness of starfruit, stringency of plantain, sourness of kiwi, sharp freshness of herbs and saltiness of dipping sauce that had been accentuated with fish marinade and roasted peanuts. Oh my. And yet the ingredients blended together harmoniously or else waited their turns to assert themselves, making for a different sensation with each chew.

gỏi cá trích in a rice paper roll

We were blown away by this dish. I actually thought it was much better than bò nhúng dấm (vinegar beef hotpot), which means a lot since bò nhúng dấm has always been my favorite dish. This dish is definitely more complex, starting with the defiantly fishy sardines that eclipse the milder vinegary beef. The variety of vegetables are similar, but gỏi cá trích specifically calls for as many as you can get, preferably by foraging, so that’s another point in its favor. Even the rice paper dipped in coconut milk, which we were initially skeptical about, turned out great – not greasy but a vehicle for additional coconut richness. Finally, it’s hard to beat a dipping sauce that decorates nước chấm (fish sauce with all its usual fixings ) with roasted peanuts and lime-fish marinade. Yum, and a new favorite!


Gỏi cá kiểu Nam Mỹ (Ceviche)

Funnily enough I never learned how to make gỏi cá (lit., fish salad) the Vietnamese way, but I know how to make it the South American way. My Dad claims he knows how from watching my Grandfather make it, but then I’ve never seen my Dad actually cook. My cousin also says there’s a mean gỏi cá, Granddad’s style, waiting for me at his farm in Vietnam. One of these days I’ll take him up on his offer. For now, I’ll have fun with a very similar dish from the other side of the world.

Ceviche is eaten throughout South America. National, regional, and local variations exist from Southern Mexico down to the very tip of Chile (probably). We are most familiar with Peruvian iterations of the dish because we first learned of it from an authentic Peruvian, then subsequently took a trip to Peru where we consumed ceviche from lunch counters in Highland markets, cevicherias, and restaurants in Lima.

Marcos Pesado, of the Peruvian metal band Reino Ermitaño, posted on a music message board his ceviche recipe (thread deleted), which we immediately connected to gỏi cá. The basic idea is the same: cured, uncooked fish mixed with chilli and fresh herbs (essential) and other ingredients (variable). The main difference is the curing method – South Americans use acidic citrus juices to denature fish protein and inhibit spoilage; the Vietnamese use rice wine.

Our first iteration of ceviche was very Vietnamese – garnished with basil, cilantro, pineapple, onion and chilli. Just add thính (powdered roasted rice) and you’d have something very similar to gỏi cá.

Our trip to Peru informed us about other nuances in the dish. Seemed like ceviche was always served with something crunchy, something sweet and something starchy. In Cuzco, a more traditional version of the dish came with fried giant corn, sweet potato, and rice, respectively.

Ceviche at a marketplace lunch counter in Cuzco, served garnished fried giant corn, sweet potato and rice.

In Lima, at a restaurant with a reputation for innovative recipes, ceviche was served with potato chip, fried plaintains, and boiled giant corn.

Ceviche at a restaurant in Lima, served with boiled giant corn, potato chip, and something or other.

Subsequently, our ceviche followed those guidelines. In September we made scallop ceviche, sliced crosswise and served with fried seaweed, fried anchovy (both are sweet and crunchy) and lavender roasted purple sweet potato (sweet/starchy).

Scallop ceviche with fried seaweed, anchovies, and purple sweet potato

In October, we made skatewing cevichewith popcorn (crunchy/starchy) and curry roasted yellow sweet potato (sweet/starchy).

Skatewing ceviche with popcorn and yellow sweet potato

Mike of Monahan’s Seafood in Ann Arbor deserves a mention. It’s easy to be confident and adventurous whenever ceviche is on the menu if one has access to Monahan’s seafood and Mike’s forthright and knowledgeable assessment of his inventory. The man even has his own scallop ceviche recipe on the store website. Elsewhere, we usually have to hit the Japanese markets to get sashimi grade fish to be sure of getting well-handled fresh seafood.

Finally, in his post Marcos also informed us that the leftover marinade is sometimes mixed with vodka for a drink called leche de tigre (tiger’s milk.) Tasted like a fishy screwdriver.