Lang Du

The Mekong River stretches through five countries, originating from the Tibetan Plateau in China. Before flowing into the Eastern Sea, the river bestows its final gifts upon our Mekong Delta region, bringing fertile silt and abundant aquatic resources. Using the river’s gifts, delta locals have created a regional specialty strongly linked to the formation and development of this friendly land – dried fish, known locally as “kho ca”. 

A fisherman on his boat in the flooding season

We arrived in rural Tam Nong District in Dong Thap Province on a bright and sunny day. If you follow Provincial Road 844 starting from Tram Chim National Park heading toward National Road 30, you will reach the source of the Tien River, where the main branch of the Mekong leaves Cambodia to enter Vietnam. Along this stretch of the road lies the largest fish-drying area in the Mekong Delta. Dried fish is an unforgettable specialty of Dong Thap – the land of pink lotus flowers. 

Dried snakehead fish is a specialty of Tam Nong

For more than 20km, both sides of the road were lined with fish-drying racks. Medium-dried golden fish fillets sparkled under the afternoon sun as if coated with honeyed glaze. The pungent, savory smell of dried fish can make visitors wince at first, but for locals who have been away and are returning home, this familiar scent brings tears of joy to their eyes.

Fish is hung out to dry in a village beside Provincial Road 844

According to the locals, the annual fish-drying season starts from September. When the seemingly endless summer rains stop and water begins to cover the fields, the fish-drying villages of Tam Nong grow busy. There are hundreds of kinds of dried fish on the market and many different products, but Tam Nong is known for its dried snakehead fish.

Những giàn phơi cá khô được đặt ngay ven đường tỉnh 844

This local specialty has a different taste, as locals follow secret rules governing their ingredients, seasoning, and the drying process. Caught fish are thoroughly cleaned, drained, and processed, then marinated in a sufficient amount of spices. The desired taste balances salty and sweet flavors, with a perfect proportion of pepper and chili. Most essentially, when the fish is dried on the racks, a lot of sunlight is needed to dry the fillets and release an unforgettable aroma.

Fish are cleaned before being marinated in spices and dried

According to the owner of a large-scale fish-drying factory in Phu Thanh Commune, to eliminate the fishy smell of freshwater fish, workers must skillfully remove all organs, wash off the blood, and refrigerate the fish for two to three days before placing them on the drying racks. Once the fish are cleaned, most of the smell will evaporate. As a result, flies don’t circle the fish-drying racks. Another crucial part of the marinating and drying process is the shaping step, so that dried pieces of fish will have a beautiful shape and look appetizing to consumers.

The fish-drying villages in Tam Nong Province have existed for generations. Each household or individual production unit has their own secret method for drying fish that has been passed from one generation to the next, so as to give their products an appealing color and memorable taste.

The fish is flavored with salty, sweet and spicy seasoning

In recent years, Dong Thap Province has planned and promoted tourism development in the area around Tram Chim National Park. At the same time, Hong Ngu Town, located at the source of the Tien River, has had its status upgraded to that of a provincial city. It is also the first riverside town through which the Mekong River passes after entering Vietnam. As a result, craft villages like the fish-drying villages in Tam Nong, which borders Hong Ngu Town, are now receiving special attention.

Having visited the beautiful nature in Tram Chim, visitors can go on to explore the oldest and most distinctive fish-drying villages in the Mekong Delta. After sampling this local specialty, the unique savory taste and warm generosity of local river dwellers will always linger in visitors’ minds…