Fried squid paste in Halong Bay
Halong fried squid paste (cha muc) is made from cuttlefish due to its thick and chewy flesh. The cooks use only big cuttlefish caught from Quang Ninh’s seas where the salinity is high and the seafood is especially delicious. If they use other types of squid, the fragrance and the taste of the fried squid paste will not be the same.
After preparing the fresh cuttlefish, they should be drained in order to keep the stickiness of the mixture in the pounding stage. Then, the cuttlefish are cut into pieces. While pounding the cuttlefish, the cook adds some necessary spices such as onion, garlic, and pepper. Some even add pork fat or peeled shrimps so the mixture will have a sweet and soft taste.
The hand-pounding technique is the most important process in making a delicious fried squid paste dish. This traditional method takes a lot of time. It also requires experienced and strong cooks to handle this process. They must pound the mixture evenly and continuously so that the flesh of the squids will blend together, and the mixture will reach a certain stickiness.
Importantly, after pounding, the cook must add the diced tentacles and the rest of the squid into the mixture. This also makes the squid paste more special compared to shrimp and fish cakes.
After the pounding stage, the squid mixture will be frozen for at least two hours so it will hold together. It will then be divided and shaped into flat and round pieces. They will be fried in hot oil until they turn golden in color.
Fried squid paste combined with white sticky rice and steamed rice rolls have become two dishes from Quang Ninh that have been honored in the ‘Top 100 specialties of Vietnam in 2022’.