Phu Quoc lime-cured sardine salad

Gỏi cá (Raw Fish Salad) – An age-old traditional Vietnamese dish

Gỏi cá (Raw Fish Salad) is a traditional Vietnamese dish that has a very long history. The dish is prepared with raw fish fillets cured by acidity like citrus fruits, often with roasted rice, and some other herbs or vegetables. The dish is quite similar to the Peruvian cerviche, but the Vietnamese often compares with the Japanese sashimi.

Lime-cured red snapper salad
Lime-cured red snapper salad

A long history

One record says during the Hung King dynasty, a general named Quý Minh treated his friends with gỏi cá or raw fish salad. Based on the time he lived, the dish occurred more than 2200 years ago. In fact, all these historical figures are immortaized as saints, and nowadays, local people still worship and offer some such dish in some rituals.

lime-cured sardine salad
Lime-cured sardine salad, a delicacy in Phú Quốc island

Etymologically, the word gỏi originally means “raw fish salad”. However, in southern Vietnamese dialect, the word gỏi means all kind of Vietnamese salads. So, the word “gỏi cá” is created to distinguish common salad from raw fish salad. In North Vietnam, common salad is called “nộm”. However, nowadays, the word gỏi is widely used throughout Vietnam, meaning all types of Vietnamese salads, and raw fish salad is one of them.

Fish Species

Originally, the fish species limited to some freshwater fish, but later the fish choice is quite diverse both with freshwater and saltwater fish: Largescale silver carp (Bắc Giang, Thái Nguyên, Hải Dương provinces), crucian carp (Khánh Hòa, Phú Yên, Bình Định provinces), small eel fry (Ninh Bình, Thanh Hóa, Thái Bình provinces), white sardine (central-southern coastal provinces), whiting (Bình Thuận, Bà Rịa – Vũng Tàu provinces), needlefish (Phú Yên province), sardine (Phú Quốc island)… Other fish includes: anchovy, yellowcheek, red snapper, spurdog,…

galangal-cured eel fry salad
Galangal-cured eel fry salad

Relation with some Citrus-cured meat dishes

In Vietnam, there are several citrus-cured dishes that share similar cooking method with the gỏi cá dish. In such dishes, raw veal or goat meat is cured by lime juice.

Cooking method and the variations of flavor pairings

The first step is to fillet the fresh fish, then slice into pieces. The next step is to remove the fish smell, then cure the fish flesh with thính powder (roasted cereals), and herbs. However, which ingredients to be used varies across different regions to suit different taste buds.

galangal-cured silver carp salad
Galangal-cured silver carp salad

To cure the fish flesh, either lime, liquor, or galangal can be used. In some Vietnamese restaurants, sometimes raw fish fillets are served and can be cured with mustard or wasabi similar to Japanese sashimi.

Galangal-cured spurdog shark salad
Galangal-cured spurdog shark salad

The thính powder can be made by grounding roasted rice, glutinous rice or soy beans. It is used to enhance the aroma of the fish salad, or sometimes to mask the fishy smell. This powder is also used in some citrus-cured meat dish.

lime-cured barramundi salad
Lime-cured barramundi salad

The salad greens and herbs has a variety of choice: đinh lăng leaves (Polyscias fruticosa), fig leaves and/or fruits, mango-pine leaves (Barringtonia acutangula), sawtooth coriander, guava leaves, purple perilla, coriander, green banana, banana blossoms, cinnamon basil, star fruits, onions, green mango, baywatch leaves…

lime-cured hairtail salad
Lime-cured hairtail (cutlassfish) salad

The dipping sauce form the characteristics of the raw fish salad dish. The base ingredients are fish sauce or soy sauce, mixed with crushed roasted peanuts, chili, garlic, sugar, lime juice… Extra ingredients may be tamarind paste. Sometimes the dipping sauce comes from the sauce from another braised fish dish. In some regions, fermented rice is used for the acidity taste.

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