It might not look as sophisticated as many other dishes, but the white sardine salad (goi ca mai) of the coastal city of Quy Nhon lures tourists with its sour, spicy, salty and sweet flavors.
White sardines are quite similar to anchovies in appearance, but they have a clearer and firmer flesh. They have a slight fishy taste, so the best way to enjoy them is to make a salad.
The cook often chooses fresh white sardines just caught and remove all the bones from the flesh. After cleaning, the white sardine flesh will turn transparent, with the crispiness and sweetness of the fresh fish.
At Quy Nhon street eateries, which sell the white sardine salad, the flesh is mixed with minced chili and garlic, tamarind and some seasonings, after which crushed roasted peanuts are sprinkled on top. Diners squeeze lemon juice evenly over the dish to enjoy it.
The salad is not complete without the dipping sauce and accompanying fresh vegetables. There are usually two types of dipping sauces: chili garlic soy sauce and soybean paste. The sauce has a typical taste and aroma that highlights the taste of the dish, making the salad more attractive.
The accompanying vegetables include shredded cucumber, mangos, banana blossoms, herbs and lettuce. Diners will wrap the vegetables and salad in rice paper, roll it, and dip it in the sauce to enjoy the dish. The sweetness of the fish blends perfectly with the salty and spicy taste of the dipping sauce, the sour taste of lemon juice and tamarind and the freshness of green vegetables, all of which work in perfect harmony to mesmerize diners until the last bite.