In the journey of discovering Ha Tien town and Hai Tac Islands in Kien Giang, apart from being impressed with the breath-taking landscape, I also got wowed by the first time eating the traditional Ca Xiu dish. The dish is exclusive only in Ha Tien Town.
Not only me, but also other journalists were a bit shocked when looking at the dish. Ca Xiu is a type of fish, with the appearance of an insect with real long antennas. After seeing my local friend eating and praising the taste of Ca Xiu, I finally had gut to try the first bite, and surprisingly it was very delicious. Perhaps the quirky name “Ca Xiu” was named after the strange shape of this fish.
Ca Xiu normally live in river environments, estuaries, brackish water, particularly in the area Dong Ho of Ha Tien Town. Just like shellfish, Ca Xiu inhabit in water floors below the mud surface, hence they are equipped with long tentacles or tails to stick to the ground and aid them in their search for food.
Between June and August each year is the Ca Xiu season. Fishermen will catch Ca Xiu (just like how they would catch shellfish), clean them off the surrounding mud, and keep the tail to make salted Ca Xiu (Mam Ca Xiu). The recipe is one layer of Ca Xiu for a layer of salt. Depending on their preferences, people can choose to salt Ca Xiu in two ways, either using salted water or grain of salt. They also can add sugar to speed up the souring process of Ca Xiu. This process requires the maker to be skillful and experienced. The quality of salted Ca Xiu heavily depends on this salting process (if too bland the Ca Xiu will go bad and if too salty the Ca Xiu will blacken and also go bad).
Ca Xiu salted in the morning would be ready right away in the afternoon, it is however could be kept in a jar and would last years. According to some women at the fish market, back then, fishermen always packed with them a jar of salted Ca Xiu to be eaten with steamed rice while they were away on fishing trips. Slowly, this traditional food becomes a specialty in the area of Ha Tien.
Ca Xiu is best served when it is salted in the morning and stir-fried in the afternoon because at that moment the saltiness still hasn’t infused deeply into the meat. The ideal cooking method is to stir-fry garlic before adding Ca Xiu, stir them together constantly so that all the flavors are finely mixed together. Adding some peppers and sugar will give a better taste.
When eating Ca Xiu, remove the outer shells and only consume the inner meat. The best and most nutritious part of Ca Xiu is their tail (which is said to benefit male’s vitality). The tail is slightly chewy which fit really well to men’s appetite. Place Ca Xiu into a small plate and enjoy along with white rice, a very special taste you should always try if you ever travel to Ha Tien.