Vietnamese wet markets fascinate me to no end. No matter how many times I patrol the narrow passageways inside these damp, fragrant, run down buildings, the melee never ceases to amaze. Somewhere along the way I have completed my metamorphosis from gawking observer to hesitant participant. To be sure I still whip out my camera to document the craziness, but sometimes I now break down and join the commerce.
A woman with a table of meat loaf looking patties got my attention by accident. I had stopped to admire a display of live ducks and then politely tried to convince the old lady I really had no interest in taking one home. And let the record show that the equivalent of about $7 seems to be the opening bid for a large quacking specimen. As I slowly backed away I bumped into another table, this one being those grey meatball looking things with a mysterious yellow glaze.
Do they have the concept of you break it, you buy it in Vietnam? I almost laid waste to the entire display when I knocked it but the young girl was able to rescue it before gravity pulled the wobbling table earthward. All eyes became focused on the big clumsy western guy and I heard a chorus of “oooohhhhaaaaaaaas” erupt around me as the more agile market participants admonished my stupidity.
I felt bad so I ended up buying a piece for a dollar and hauled it back to my hotel. I asked the front desk staff if they could recognize this suspect item and their eyes all lit up. “Very special to Phan Thiet!” “I like it.” And of course the chorus would not be complete without a constant refrain of “Good for health!” They explained this chả cá is a local dish, but very difficult to make. In fact one said, “If I make, no one eats.” Yes, I feel her pain for I am sure my aftermath attempting to recreate a fish loaf would be the same.
Minced fish and pork are mixed with fish sauce, egg and pepper among other ingredients and somehow this is boiled or cooked until it turns into the consistency of a hot dog. It tastes better than it sounds. Actually speaking of hot dogs, it actually tastes much like one.
I am thankful I accidentally bumped into a local specialty I would have otherwise missed.