Cha muc, a boiled or steamed patty of pounded squid, is the specialty of the Ha Long Bay region. The patties’ unique taste arouses the desire of visitors from near and far.
Usually, diners ask for a second serving of cha muc, even when tasting this food for the first time, and they want to eat it many times once they happen upon it during their trip to Halong, a renowned tourism city in Quang Ninh province that is home to a UNESCO-listed bay.
We had cha muc several times during our visit to Halong, whose sea provides a plentiful source of fresh squid for local cooks to make the fried squid paste which appeals to so many visitors.
Locals net fresh squid and then pound it by hand in a mortar until it becomes an elastic paste. Then they mix it with broken pepper and fish sauce before shaping it into cakes for deep frying in a pan until the paste cakes turn brown and smell good.
People eat cha muc when it is hot and with steamed rice rolls or steamed glutinous rice as the oily broth from the paste cakes mixes with the steamed rice rolls or rice to turn it into a delicious dish for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
In Halong, a dish of cha muc and steamed rice rolls or steamed glutinous rice is served with pepper fish sauce and bamboo slices pickled with slices of red chili. Such a dish helps stimulate blood circulation and keeps people warm on chilly winter nights in the north.
Visitors can eat cha muc with steamed glutinous rice at street eateries on Ha Long street, near Cong Doan hotel or near the Bai Chay bridge for VND20,000 a portion.
The flavor and reputation of Halong cha muc has gone beyond the tourist city to Hanoi, HCMC and other cities of Vietnam. However, it is in Halong where you can enjoy the authentic taste and flavor of fried squid paste.