Given that grilling and barbecuing has been around for hundreds of thousands of years, I believe ca loc nuong trui is one of the oldest dishes in Vietnamese cuisine.

This is a simple peasant dish that can feed many, but requires very few ingredients.

Just snakehead fish, bamboo, charcoal and fire, all of which are plentiful in the countryside, especially in the Mekong Delta where this dish originates.

The original technique uses bundles of straw piled around the fish. Nowadays charcoal is used instead.

The Mediterranean version of this dish is salt-crusted baked fish, a dish found in Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and the Greek Islands.

The preparation of ca loc nuong trui is a simple rinse and clean of the snakehead fish.

The most important step is inserting a long one-inch thick fresh bamboo skewer from the fish’s mouth through to its tail. Once the skewering is done, the fish are slowly grilled over an elevated bed of hot charcoal.

When cooked through, apply a couple brushes of mo hanh (onion oil or scallions oil) and the fish is ready to serve. Simple yet delicious.

Snakehead fish, also known as mudfish, is one of the most important eating fish in SouthEast Asia, including Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

It’s a freshwater fish that prefers muddy water and can survive extreme conditions.

It’s common in the ponds and rivers of the Mekong Delta, and the meat is  tender and does not flake apart, so it is excellent for grilling, soup and stews.

To serve this dish you would need bun (vermicelli noodles), banh trang (rice paper), assorted fresh herbs such as rau hung que (Thai basil), rau hung lui (spearmint sprigs), diep ca (heart leaf), tia to (perilla), cucumber, chuoi chat (unripened banana) and khe xanh (unripened star fruit).

Wrap small chunks of the grilled fish in rice paper with thin slices of unripened star fruit and banana, vermicelli noodles and the fresh herbs into a nice roll.

For the dipping sauce, it is mam nem (fermented fish sauce) with chili paste, fresh chopped chili, pineapple chunks, chopped garlic and roasted peanuts.

The other option is the famous nuoc mam pha (marinated fish sauce) with lime juice, concentrated fish sauce, sugar, water, chopped garlic, minced bird’s eye chillis, shredded pickled radish and carrot.

Despite its fame, mam nem however is the more correct and most prefer dipping sauce for ca loc nuong trui but only if you can get passed the nose and taste test.

Believe it or not, there are some Vietnamese that cannot handle the taste of mam nem. Just like durian. Definitely not for the faint-hearted.

1. Quan Tu Map
33 Duong So 8, Go Vap District
Open 11am to 10pm

2. Quan Thanh Phong
54/12 Tan Ky Tan Quy
Tan Phu District
Open 4pm to 11pm

3. Ca Loc Nuong & Bo La Lop
Ally 109, 115 Tran Xuan Soan, District 7
Open 3pm to 11pm.