With a coastline of over 3,000 km, the sea is a vital part of daily Vietnamese life. No where is it more evident than the city of Nha Trang on the south central coast of Vietnam. Blessed with a beautiful bay, Nha Trang enjoys some of the most pristine beaches and an abundant bounty of sea life from which tourism and fishing plays a key economic role. On a bay tour with mom in 2002, we took a boat around the bay which stopped at a fishery in the middle of the bay. Here hundreds of live fish, lobster, giant spiny shrimp, and a variety of shell fish could become a meal cooked as you pleased in minutes and all you have to do is point your finger.
Another memory that will stay with me forever is the water taxis taking you from the larger tour boats to the shore. No, not motorized boats, but large, round thatch tubs, ferried by children far too young for their line of work. Hop on, work your way to the edge of the tub and make sure you’re sitting directly across the child or else the circular tub will just spin in circles no matter how hard he/she rows.
And with an industrious work ethic and pleasant attitude, they row you ashore asking only for tip. It was bittersweet to be ferried by him–I was fascinated at the novelty, but most of the way, I was wishing he could be in school or play with friends like most kids his age–in America, that is.
Bun ca is a relatively unknown noodle dish from the region of Nha Trang that utilizes the abundance of fish from Nha Trang’s bay. This boy might enjoy his mom’s bun ca at home or at the market food stall. It’s a simple vermicelli noodle soup often with a large steak or filet of meaty white fish as well as fish paste meatballs. The broth is pork or chicken stock sweetened with pineapple and tomatoes.
Bun Ca Vermicelli Fish Soup
1/2 lb mackeral (ca thu) steaks or any meaty white fish steak/filet
1-2 cloves garlic chopped
1 shallot, chopped
2 tbs fish sauce
1/2 ts pepper
1/2 ts sugar
1/2 lb fish paste
1 bunch of dill, chopped
salt and pepper
10 cups chicken broth or pork broth
1/2 pineapple, cut in wedges
3 medium tomatoes, cut in wedges
1/2 tbs salt
1/2 tbs sugar
1 package vermicelli noodles
1 bunch of mint, tia to (perilla), bean sprouts, banana blossom
First marinate the fish steaks with 2 tbs fish sauce, garlic, shallots, and 1/2 ts pepper and sugar for at least 15 minutes. Then mix the fish paste with the minced dill, season lightly with salt and pepper and set aside.
Using large saute pan and small amount of cooking oil, saute the marinated fish steaks till golden brown and set aside, flipping once.
Bring the stock to boil and add the pineapple and tomatoes. Keep heat at low rolling boil and spoon in small walnut sized portions of the fish paste. The fish paste cooks rather quickly and is done after 5 minutes. The tomatoes and pineapple should be tender at this point, but not too soft and overcooked. Reduce heat and season stock with 1/2 tbs salt and sugar and adjust to taste.
Ladle hot stock into a bowl of vermicelli noodles and top with a fish steak and herb accompaniments and enjoy immediately.