Fish Tales

Mui Ne & Phan Thiet are fishing villages. Everyday we ate seafood at least once – fish bbq, seafood soup, fried squid, etc… (I’m drooling.) But the biggest export and most important local product is Nuoc Mam – fish sauce. Sometimes you can smell it in the air – the odor of drying and fermenting fish. It really wasn’t as bad as I’d read it was going to be. The smell of fermenting fish might make you gag, but to me it smelled like the sea. And fish sauce is so yummy who cares what it smells like! If you buy fish sauce, check the label, it might just be from Phan Thiet!

One day when there was no wind, we hired a motorbike and drove ourselves through Mui Ne Village and Phan Thiet City. We saw a lot of drying fish.

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Mui Ne Village fishing boat fleet

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Fishing baskets – used like small boats for fishing/setting nets out

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Baskets used for carrying fish

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Drying fish in Mui Ne Village

Driving down the windy streets of Phan Thiet, we were sure we’d get lost. But we didn’t, and somehow we ended up at the fishing docks. (Must be the DH’s homing mechanism, since he grew up next to the sea.)

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Narrow streets in Phan Thiet – usually filled with motorbikes

Contrary to what you might think, the fishing docks do not smell like fish. The fish here is fresh off the boats and fresh fish doesn’t smell. (Try saying that out loud three times.) There was a flurry of activity here, with some workers unloading the fish from the boats, some loading the fish into crates, others separating the crated fish by type into piles, and some arranging the fish onto drying racks. Some of the fish was packed with ice and carted off for shipping somewhere else.

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On the Phan Thiet fishing docks

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Fresh fish on drying racks

Further down the dock we came across a huge open pavilion where hundreds of people, mostly women, were cleaning and gutting thousands of small fish. And no, it didn’t smell there, either.

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We stopped to take a look for a few minutes when the DH spotted a food vendor. The DH is the king of street food. I’ve seen him eat more street food in more places than any non-local should. Once, I watched in horror as he ate barbecued mystery meat, cooked on a makeshift barbecue pit made from a tire rim, in the dark at 2 AM in San Jose, Costa Rica. That was before my street food adventure days really got started. He’s actually been sick only once in the entire eight years I’ve known him.

This street food vendor was selling Ban My – baguette sandwiches filled with…well, we’re not sure, but they can have just about anything inside. We used to eat them in Toronto’s Chinatown. The Toronto version cost $1 and had a filling of something like bologna and cheese. The real version was incredible. It contained boiled egg, cilantro, fish?, and a spicy-vinegary sauce.

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The banh my lady

The ladies in the fish pavilion just went crazy over my white feet. At least, I think that was what they were going on about. They kept pointing at my toes (I was wearing sandals) and calling their friends over to see. Like most Asians, Vietnamese women like to stay as white as possible. I might spend the rest of my life in Asia just so I don’t have to be chastised over my white skin ever again. (I don’t tan, people! I just don’t!!)

She was also selling these steamed dumplings wrapped in leaves. Again, we have no idea what they were made out of, but they were yummy. In fact, every kind of Vietnamese food I tried was delicious. (And no, I didn’t try any of those half-egg, half-baby chicken things.)

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Steamed dumplings

Fishing is a way of life there, just as it is in thousands of cultures across the world.

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Locals and fisherman pulling in nets on Mui Ne Beach

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