Nam O raw fish salad used to be served only to seafarers in Da Nang as a local dish that villagers prepared within their family meals. Over time, the dish has been elevated to become a famous specialty with two versions, wet and dry.
Although Nam O raw fish salad can be made using sardine or anchovy, the dish tastes best with herring that has firm flesh and is about two human fingers in size. After catching the herring, fishermen clean the fish, remove the heads and fillet the flesh into bite-size pieces.
With dry Nam O raw fish salad, the herring is cured in vinegar and lime juice then squeezed dry before being mixed with powdered grilled rice and seasonings. The mixture extracted from the fish is boiled and mixed with Nam O’s high-quality fish sauce, powdered chili, tapioca powder, seasonings and finely ground peanuts to create a thick, flavourful and nutty dipping sauce.
The flesh of the herring is mixed with spicy seasonings such as chili and ginger to remove the fishy odour and powdered grilled rice and roasted sesame to make the dish more eye-catching and aromatic.
The wet Nam O raw fish salad is similar to the dry version, but instead of using powdered grilled rice, the herring is mixed with a special spicy sauce made with Nam O fish sauce, ginger, chili and sugar. The rich umami flavour of the herring flesh is brought out even more when mixed with the sauce.
The dish is served with grilled rice paper and fresh herbs. In addition to commonly found vegetables such as lettuce, bean sprouts and shaved banana flowers, Nam O villagers also use wild vegetables like Ming aralia and thinly sliced fruits such as wild banana, mango, cucumber and star fruit.