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Every resident of the Mekong Delta must have tried homegrown vegetables dipped in caramelized fish sauce (kho quet).
Back in the day, the dish was simply fish sauce stewed with pork scraps, chilli and some sugar. If you wanted some extra delicacies, you’d row your boat to pick some wild vegetables, pluck some fresh longan from your backyard, or take a gourd and a handful of pumpkin flowers and boil it all up before dipping. Of course, it was served with a rice ball or scorched rice. Anyone away from home misses this satisfying dish on rainy days. It is easy to eat one bowl of hot cooked rice after another with it when the stomach is rumbling.
Now that the living standard is higher, “kho quet” also contains dried shrimps and crunchy bacon, and is served with various vegetables. The dish conjures memories of the scent of burning straw on rice fields after the harvest or from the old kitchen stove kindled with dried coconut leaves. The best dishes are those that echo with fond childhood recollections, even a simples one such as vegetables dipped in caramelized fish sauce.
RICE BALL WITH CARAMELIZED FISH SAUCE
- 2 bowls of sticky rice
- Vegetables: okra, bitter gourd, winged bean, gourd, pumpkin flower
- 1 bowl of fish sauce
- 1 bowl of sugar
- 100g small dried shrimps
- 200g pork fat (or skinless pork belly)
- A few bird-eye chillies
- Crushed pepper or green peppercorn
- 5 strands of the white part of a shallot
- Minced purple shallot and garlic
Caramelized fish sauce
- Heat the diced pork fat in a small saucepan and stir occasionally to render. Remove the pork scraps and set aside. Keep some liquid fat in a clay pot.
- Add purple shallot, garlic and the dried shrimp, sauté until fragrant. Then add the meat, sauce, chili and pepper. Stir occasionally until sauce thickens and gets caramelized. Add the white strands of shallot and remove saucepan from heat.
- Use a towel to form hot cooked rice into balls then bake or deep fry.
- Boil vegetables, then quickly soak in ice cold water to keep the green colour. This common dish can be served with seasonal vegetables, and either cool or hot cooked white rice.
- Add a spoonful of cooked rice water to thicken the sauce.
- The amount of sugar added varies with the saltiness of the sauce and individual taste.