Fish for the King
Cá Anh Vũ, (Semilabeo Notabilis)
Semilabeo notabilis is a long, unusual, and difficult-to-pronounce fish name. It is a fish species that belong to the Cyprinidae family of freshwater fish, which includes carp, barbs, and barbels. It is known in Việt Nam as Cá Anh Vũ and is considered very valuable and delicious, earning the nickname “Kingfish”. However, there is some validity to the claim.
According to some legends, Cá Anh Vũ appeared in Việt Nam around 2000 BC. A fisherman caught Cá Anh Vũ and brought it to the King during the 3rd King Hùng Vương dynasty (about the 14th century). The King loved the fish so much that he demanded that anyone who caught one bring it to him. The fish was given the name Anh Vũ and the title “fish of the Văn Lang country” by King Hùng.
The fish has a thick body, tapering towards the tail. The color is grey and the belly is pale yellow. With a lower mouth, transversely slit, has a broad triangular lower lip with many prominent rounded fleshy spines that make it look like a pig’s snout. Cá Anh Vũ has a medium-size body length from 31-67cm and can weigh up to 5-15kg. The food of the fish is mainly green algae and other small invertebrates living in the water by scraping the food on the rocks with their lips. Cá Anh Vũ can be found in the upper reaches of the Red River, Kỳ Cùng, and Lam rivers; mainly in deep pools with flowing water and rocky bottoms. Breeding nests in the rock caves of the river bed.
Many people are still unfamiliar with Cá Anh Vũ Cá because of its rarity and considered a true delicacy in Việt Nam by many connoisseurs and those who have tried it. Cá Anh Vũ is particularly popular in northern Việt Nam and because of its white flesh, rich flavor, and firm texture. Cá Anh Vũ is also thought to be incredibly nutritious and capable of curing a variety of ailments. Treatment for constipation and kidney is based on a few popular beliefs.
Steamed and grilled (Chả cá) Cá Anh Vũ appear to be two of the most popular preparations. Another popular preparation in the southern Việt Nam is baked Cá Anh Vũ, served with green banana, green star fruit, rice paper, and fresh herbs.
Some people believe that having Cá Anh Vũ in the house will bring them good fortune and improve the family’s success. As a result, it’s common among high-ranking officers and rich businessmen to give it away as a Tết (New Year) gift. Others think that the fish is “divine” and thus should not be eaten because it came from the heavens. The person and his family will suffer retribution and setback in their lives as such.
Because of the high demand and limited supply, Cá Anh Vũ is one of Vietnam’s two most costly fish to consume. The hefty price tag is accompanied by a high social status as well as it signifies high prestige and exclusivity to conspicuous and snobby customers.
Don’t Eat Endangered Fish
Cá Anh Vũ is listed as endangered in Vietnam’s Red Book because their existence has been threatened. Due to the increased population and successful economic growth over the last three decades, growing demand for rare and expensive seafood has led to overexploitation and, in some cases, decline, resulting in the extinction or endangered status of several species. For this reason, we strongly advise you to avoid Cá Anh Vũ whenever you see it on the menu in Vietnam. Increasing our awareness of which fish are being harvested to the brink of extinction, can help us modify our fish-eating and buying habits and cease plundering an invisible ecosystem that is in a state of stress and serious decline.