“Floating season” in Mekong Delta, when the water level is on the rise and the rivers and canals expand, takes place from the seventh to the ninth lunar month. The annual floodwaters carry nutrient-rich alluvium to farmland and provide a bounty of fish, shrimp and other aquatic species. It also marks the start of a unique tourist season in the region.
The annual floodwaters in the Mekong Delta provide a bounty of fish, shrimp, and other aquatic species
This year, the season started two weeks early, with the water level 30-50 centimetres higher than usual. Currently, most of the rice fields have been harvested. Floodwater has covered residential areas, roads and fields in Dong Thap and Long An province, and the vast fields now become busy with boats, which are used by the locals both as a major means of transport and a means to catch fish.
Among the major sources of income for Mekong Delta residents while surrounded by the rising water are linh fish (Henicorhynchus), crabs, and snails.
A kilogramme of linh fish can be sold for VND60,000 in the early flood season and VND40,000 during the peak time. The fish are collected by traders and restaurants and they can be resold for triple after processing.
On their boats, locals sell various specialties of “floating season”, such as lotus stems, water lilies, dien dien flowers, and other sweet products made from sugar palm trees.
Young farmer Huy was swimming to the corn field, which is flooded under 1.5-2 metres of water, in order to collect corn stalks, which can be used as food for oxen or a source of fertiliser.
He said that his family produces only two rice crops a year and they are off during the flood season to let the farmland “relax” and conserve nutrition for new crops. When the water level is low, the family cultivate fast growing vegetables. If the water level is high, Huy earns income from casting a fishing net and collecting dien dien flowers.
The Mekong Delta region’s cuisine is renowned for many appetising dishes made from local specialties and using unique cooking methods, such as chicken and rice steamed in lotus leaves, straw roasted fish, braised duck with fermented tofu, salad of sau dau leaves and seasoned dried fish.
“Floating season” is a good time for foodies coming to the Mekong Delta to taste dishes made from the signature vegetables and herbs of the season, including hot pot of linh fish and dien dien flowers, crispy fried linh fish, tiny shrimp fried with dien dien flowers.
A hot pot of 'linh' fish is a colourful harmony of taste and colours
Dien dien flowers and lotus stems, both fruitful when the floodwaters are rising, are the perfect match for making salads and hot pots.
Along the streets in Tan Hung district, Long An province, travellers can buy dried lotus seeds, fresh lotus seed pods, lotus stems, and lotus seed milk.
With only VND25,000 (US$1), one can buy around 20 lotus seed pods, in which lotus seed can be used to cook elegant sweet soup with palm sugar.
On the way from the downtown of Tinh Bien district to the Nui Cam tourism site in An Giang province, there are dozens of street stalls selling ‘banh xeo’, a kind of crispy pancake served with selected wild leaves and vegetables.
Collecting wild leaves and vegetables as ingredients for the stalls provides a good source of income for local residents during flood season.
Gourmets having a tasty dish of banh xeo can learn more about the names and uses of more than 30 leaves and herbs served with the dish.
Meanwhile, the aromatic, juicy linh fish, one of the southerners' favourite fish, is used for grilling and hot pot. A hot pot of linh fish is a colourful harmony of taste and colours with red tomatoes and broth standing out with the yellow dien dien flowers and slices of pineapples, and green onion and vegetables.