Cat Hai Island District is located in the North West of Hai Phong City and borders Quang Ninh Province in the North East. The terrain is complex with a total area of 345 km2 and 2/3 of the area is mountainous terrain. There are two famous islands here; Cat Hai Island and Cat Ba Islands.
Vietnamese cuisine was voted in the TOP 10 most influential cuisines in the world by CNN. In particular, fish sauce received special praise and is known by many famous chefs around the world. Fish sauce is a speciality of Vietnam and is made from anchovies, salt and water.
If Phu Quoc fish sauce is considered as the most famous specialty of Phu Quoc Island (Kien Giang), Cat Hai fish sauce is also one of the most famous products of Cat Hai Island (Hai Phong). It has also been selected as one of Vietnam’s top condiments by the Vietnam Guinness Book of Records.
Why Cat Hai fish sauce famous?
Fish sauce first appeared in Cat Hai from the 20th century and derived from the name Van Van fish sauce. Therefore, as soon as you set foot on this island, the first thing you will notice is the salty and fragrant smell of fish sauce from the producers spread across the island. It is also the unique flavor of this small island.
In the past, many Northern people still recognized Cat Hai fish sauce under the name Van Van fish sauce. Van Van fish sauce is famous across Indochina because of its quality and rare flavor with a protein content about 15% to 40% per liter. In 1959, it was renamed Cat Hai Fish sauce.
For locals, Cat Hai fish sauce is indispensable for each family’s meal and there is simply no substitute. The characteristic aroma of Cat Hai fish sauce is made from anchovy, squid or Nham fish combined with selected sea salt.
Each year, more than 7 million liters of Cat Hai fish sauce are supplied to the market with over 700 agents and stalls throughout 24 provinces of Vietnam. Not only for domestic consumption, Cat Hai fish sauce is also exported to many countries such as China, The Philippines, Laos or Eastern Europe.
The method of production determines the quality of fish sauce and is mainly manual. Fish sauce here is made from mainly Ca Com (anchovies) and Nham, a species with a special taste from Cat Hai’s waters. The fish should be fresh and anything else will ruin the natural flavor of the sauce product.
The fish is cleaned before being mixed with salt at a certain ratio. The mixture (called chướp) is then placed into containers like wooden barrels or concrete tanks. The top layer is pressed with a bamboo-net and heavy stones. It is very important thing that “chướp” must be exposed to sunlight and sometimes it has to be stirred constantly.
“Chướp” is brewed and sun-dried from 12 to 24 months during the self-ripening process. After that, the fish are totally hydrolyzed, yielding the salty, fishy liquid that has a very high protein content and has a light amber color.
It is estimated that each year nearly 5 million liters of fish sauce are sold from the region. Especially, Cat Hai fish sauce does not use any chemicals to create scents or colors, all of which comes from fish and salt.
Visiting Cat Hai, visitors have the opportunity to observe the process of making fish sauce and enjoy its delicious taste.
Source photo: Bao Anh Viet Nam