Lau tha, or tha hotpot, is a dish familiar to those living in or visiting Phan Thiet City, Binh Thuan Province. The attractive specialty tastes so delicious with a wide range of ingredients.
The special hotpot in the central coast city may partly carry the meaning of Vietnam’s cuisine.
Each ingredient of the dish symbolizes one of the five elements of earth including metal, wood, water, fire and soil. Therefore, locals believe the hotpot helps balance the Yin and Yang that enhance health and energy in human body. The five elements correspond to sour, spicy, bitter, salty and sweet tastes, which are combined perfectly in the hotpot.
Fresh fish should first be mentioned. Local cooks say they prefer mai fish (Escualosa thoracata) or suot fish (Atherinidae). The fresh fishes will be parboiled and cleaned by lemon juice before being marinated with fish sauce, ginger juice, minced garlic and chili powder. Aside from fish meat, the essential ingredients include boiled bacon, fried egg, young mango and star fruit which are served in banana flower petals.
The broth is made by boiling pork bones, shrimps, tomatoes and onions. Annatto oil is added to the broth to make more eye-catching.
The dipping sauce is also indispensable, which incorporates banana, tamarind juice, peanut and minced chili. Diners can feel the salty, sweet, spicy and light sour tastes at the same time when enjoying the hotpot accompanied by the special dipping sauce.
This Phan Thiet’s specialty can be enjoyed in two ways. The first one is that diners put all ingredients in their bowl and adds fresh fishes parboiled in the broth before and dipping sauce. In the second way, diners can put all ingredients in the boiling broth, wait for several minutes and enjoy it. Especially, banh da, or Vietnamese rice crackers, is a side dish which may wrap up a wonderful gastronomic experience with the hotpot.
Boiled snail dish is even tastier, laying on the way it is eaten: sitting on the sidewalk, enjoying the food while watching people passing by.