Cá Bạc Má Chiên Fried Silver Fish – 40 of 365

About a year ago in Kuala Lumpur I met my friend Travis who enjoys traveling off the beaten path as much as I do.  He understands this mentality and forwarded me an article from the 17 January 2012 online edition of BBC.   The closing quote sums up what I look for out of life, and especially for this food journey:

“Stop collecting landmarks and instead collect experiences that change the way that we look at the world and our own lives.”

Fried Silver Fish

Wandering around on foot in the Binh Thanh neighborhood behind my apartment tower is a fertile source of experiences for sure.   Believe me, what I see is anything but homogeneous.   This is Vietnam in your face rather than the sanitized District 1 experience downtown.   While on my latest search for lunch, I watched the old lady who dries the mysterious spongey crap on top of a newspaper hand a man a cat and thought how nice that old women keep pets here, too.   Well any thoughts of this animal being a pet quickly crashed and burned around me in that narrow alley.  I watched the man stuff the cat into a green plastic bag, tie off the top, and carry the screaming creature off as if it was yesterday’s trash.  Or maybe it’s today’s meal.  Who knows.  Hopefully it won’t find its way into my food.    Quick!  We better find lunch before they let the cat out of the bag.  Fish anyone?

With cat meat on my mind, I stopped by Café 91 on the way home for my takeaway box of hopefully nonfeline meat.   The lady there knows my face now and the whole process of ordering is effortless.  She sees me walk in, grabs a Styrofoam container and piles a mound of rice into it from her steamer.   She points one finger in the air to signify one meat item and I affirm her assumption with “mot” or one.  One day I am going to say “hai” for two and shake her world up a little bit.   She places the box on the counter and another lady packs up a banana and some soup ladled into a plastic bag.   In exchange for 22,000 Dong, or about a buck, I receive my takeaway sack, attempt a “cảm ơn” (hopefully correctly) for thank you, and out the door I go.  I only have to expend three syllables for a meal.

A live cat is in the bag

I emailed Anthony a picture of lunch and within 20 minutes found out it’s cá bạc má chiên or fried silver fish.  Imagine a piece of Captain D’s fast food fish deep fried into that crunchy greasy shell.  Now add some creamy tartar sauce and a lemon wedge.  Though a heart attacked on a plate, it does taste good, right?   Well, I wish I could compare silver fish to that.   Captain D’s tastes better.  Whatever this fish was, its remains are deep fried into oblivian.  Gone is a nice fillet of soft meat and in its place we have something resembling a tough pork rind with bones served with a side of fish sauce.   And I have to wonder.  Why would they cut the mouth out but leave the eyes?  Even my frozen fish debacle the other day kept the mouth (teeth, too) for our dining pleasure.   Maybe I should have deep fried that bag of fish parts after all.  Lesson learned for next time.

Yes, an outing to find a simple lunch changed the way I look at the world around my apartment for sure.  And this silver fish shows my food world is both expanding and becoming a collection of experiences.

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Categories: Vietnamese Food

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