biology, Weird Food

Weird Food 9: Mam Ca Loc (Mud Fish)

I’ve got good news! For all you curious buggers out there who want to try surströmming, but either can’t afford to have it shipped to your part of the world or simply can’t get it at all, I’ve found a substitute, which you can buy at many Asian or international markets! It’s called mam ca loc: preserved mud fish!

Mud Fish Jar.png

…I might have been lying about the good news.

This is yet another weird dish I tried mainly because I saw the violent reactions of the people who tried it on YouTube. I’m starting to question my judgment.

But before I describe the foul stuff that was in that jar, I should say that I fucking love Vietnamese food. Actually, Vietnamese food might be my favorite. There’s a chance I like it more than pizza, which is really saying something. My favorite soup at the Vietnamese place down the road is pho dac biet (sorry if I spelled it wrong, and sorry that I can’t figure out how to make WordPress do Vietnamese diacritics), which a lot of people shy away from because it’s got tripe and tendon in it. I love that stuff. I want you to keep everything I’ve said in mind as I describe what it was like to taste this substance:

Mud Fish Open.png

The first thing that struck me was the horrible smell. Much like surströmming, mam ca loc (or at least this version of it) emits a sulfurous stench like the world’s ripest fart. Once the initial stench has dissipated, it leaves behind a much worse smell. Pardon me if I get a little gross here, but the smell is as though a grizzly pooped ten pounds of undigested fish into a Port-a-John and it was left to sit in the sun all day. It was absolutely rank.

And, like surströmming, the flavor actually wasn’t too bad. Tasted mostly like anchovies. The texture wasn’t horrible: the texture was annoying: mud fish is very tough, and the meat felt like it was stuck to some sort of silicone-rubber backing. Not that I spent much time trying to get the meat free, because there was no way in hell I was going to swallow something that smelled like that.

Unfortunately, mam ca loc is not the last fermented seafood I’ll be trying. The next fermented seafood I’ll be trying is made by Lee Kum Kee, who spend 95% of their time making tasty soy and hoisin sauces, and 5% of their time making horrible salty fermented shrimp paste.

The Final Verdict: I wouldn’t eat mam ca loc unless the alternative was starvation or other physical harm. If I had to eat it, I’d rinse it off thoroughly and put it in a soup or something. But I wouldn’t be happy about it. I don’t recommend it, unless you want the surströmming experience, but can’t get surströmming. Even then, I don’t really recommend it.

To my Vietnamese readers: I know I didn’t prepare this properly, because I didn’t prepare it at all. How is it meant to be eaten? I’m genuinely curious. I’m guessing soup, but I don’t honestly know.


10 thoughts on “Weird Food 9: Mam Ca Loc (Mud Fish)

  1. This post cracked me up! I am such a picky eater and as I was reading this I am thinking “Why the hell would you do this?!” and then when you didn’t even swallow it!? OMG.. You are brave and crazy, I want to get to know you better.

  2. It’s a ingredient never to be eaten uncooked and on its own!!!

    Normally used in a Pork and egg terrine meatloaf or in specific soups for that added savoury depth.

    I cannot believe you ate this on its own. I am HORRIFIED for you!!!!

    • Yeah. Everything I read about mam ca loc described it as being used in soup or similar. I’m sure eating it by itself is like eating soy sauce on its own: that’s not how it’s meant to be eaten, so of course it’s going to be gross. Still, I’d prefer to avoid it in general: I don’t much like that fermented-meat sort of flavor. I don’t much like really ripe cheese, either, for that matter.

  3. Katrina Le says:

    Actually, we Vietnamese do eat mam ca loc without cooking it, believe it or not 😂.
    I’m certain it’s called Mam Thai, where sliced mam ca loc’s fillets is mixed with sundried crunchy papaya, season with chilli slices, minced garlic and a tad of sugar if needed. The mam is then served with boiled pork belly slices, vermicelli noodles/steamy rice and plenty of fresh herbs, cucumber included.

    • That actually sounds pretty tasty. I’m very fond of a lot of the pork-belly and vermicelli noodle Vietnamese dishes. The Vietnamese place I usually eat at does a dish called (I think) bun com (something) dac biet, which has a lot of those ingredients. Mam ca loc might be okay as an addition to that. I might actually try it at some point.

  4. Phi says:

    When eating something new it helps to google how to prepare it. That’s like buying raw chicken and eating it without washing, seasoning, nor cooking. As far as spelling, I believe it’s faster to type it into google and the correct spelling would pop up rather then type a whole sentence explaining why your spelling may be wrong and asking people to forgive before you attempt to try. Guess common sense isn’t easy to come by.

  5. whatever forever says:

    Stumbled upon this page while I was looking for mam ca loc recipes to replicate a dish my mom used to make. I hate that your entire blog is premised on disparaging foods from other cultures. This is the exact type of thing that perpetuates harmful stereotypes about immigrants and BIPOC folks living in predominately white countries. News flash — it’s not weird food. You’re just racist. 🤷🏻‍♀️

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