Gathering around a fire on a chilly evening in the highlands to enjoy grilled fish Pa Pinh Top is a truly unforgettable experience. Dien Bien, known not only for the historic Dien Bien Phu campaign, Muong Thanh field, and Nam Rung river, but also for its delectable dishes that are characteristic of the Northwest region.
Among these, fish dishes take the spotlight, with the most renowned ones being Pa Ninh Top, Pa Giang, and fried stream fish. Three fish dishes for a chilly dinner in Dien Bien, Vietnam.
Pa Pinh Top
To prepare the traditional Pa Pinh Top grilled fish, a dish celebrated for its unique flavor in the Northwest mountains, you will need a sturgeon weighing approximately 1-1.5 kg. The fish is scored on the back, and then a layer of roasted salt is gently rubbed inside to enhance the richness of the meat. Next, a blend of spices is added to the fish’s belly, consisting of mac Khen (wild pepper), crushed roasted chili, scallions, herbs, finely chopped coriander, and allowed to marinate. The fish is then securely fastened with bamboo skewers and grilled over charcoal.
The result is a beautifully golden fish, cooked to perfection without being broken. The meat is delightfully succulent, boasting the delicate sweetness and richness of the fish, accompanied by a pleasant spiciness from the chili and the enticing aroma of onions and mac Khen.
Pa Giang, meaning dried fish in the Thai language, is another traditional dish cherished by the local people. This delicacy is crafted from fish sourced from rivers and streams, which are carefully prepared by scoring the back. The fish is left unscaled and instead marinated with an array of aromatic spices before being set to dry on the kitchen floor.
During the drying process, it is crucial to ensure that the inside of the fish faces upwards, while the skin lies against the surface, allowing the fish to cook slowly and evenly. When it comes time to indulge, the dried fish can be grilled or reheated to revive its flavors. The flesh of the fish becomes wonderfully sweet and chewy, accompanied by a hint of smokiness from the kitchen and the delightful aroma of mac ken.
Fried stream fish
Stream fish, a beloved addition to the rice tray, is a delicacy cherished by the locals. With its tender bones, firm flesh, and delightful richness, it has captured the hearts of many diners.
When prepared, the fish takes on a vibrant yellow hue, making it visually appealing and enticing. The head of the fish offers a fatty and crunchy texture, while the meat carries an enticing fragrance and natural sweetness. The crispy fish bones provide an enjoyable chew, often relished along with the meat. It is customary to dip the fish in a mixture of fish sauce, lemon, and chili, and savor it with bay leaves and steaming hot rice.
In addition to these three traditional fish dishes, visitors to Dien Bien can also indulge in two more contemporary creations: salt-roasted sturgeon and salmon spring rolls. These newer additions offer a modern twist on the local fish cuisine, providing an exciting culinary experience for those seeking something different.