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Unique Dish “Ocean Flash”

Friday, 05/20/2016 12:10
“Ocean Flash” is a pretty name that people in Phu Yen province call their specialty dish of tuna eye. The dish has been upgraded from a homemade and rustic dish had over a casual drink to appearing on the tables at fancy and luxurious parties and restaurants.
Tourists also now want to try it every time they visit Phu Yen province.

PictureTuna fishing in Phu Yen - Photo Van Thanh

Writer Dao Minh Hiep (based in Phu Yen) told us that three of his friends with whom he studied 10 years ago in Russia and are now living and working in Hanoi recently visited Phu Yen with their wives. They visited him to try the local specialities of a tuna filet rolled with mustard greens, herbs and peanuts and the Ocean Flash.

Of their experience, Dao Minh Hiep says, “My friends told me that in order to experience the true taste of the land and sea of Phu Yen province you must sit at a sidewalk shop near the beach in Tuy Hoa City. There you enjoy slices of chilled, raw tuna fish so fresh it still has its light pink color. While enjoying the sea breezes, you feel the cold of the fish on your teeth then warm up your stomach with a reasonably priced bowl of Ocean Flash that is stewed with Chinese herbs.

Picture: Deep fried tuna eye from the Hung Vuong restaurant team- Photo- Duy Thanh. A fisherman’s snack

From a fisherman’s snack...

Phu Yen is considered a tuna capital because fishermen in the sea village of Phu Cau (Ward 6, Tuy Hoa City) were the first to know how to fish for tuna and develop the trade in 1994. Born in this village, Mr. Nguyen Ngoc Son knows a lot about how to cook different dishes of tuna.

In the 1990’s, Mr. Son opened a restaurant named “Son Cau Go” located in Tuy Hoa City along the embankment of the Da Rang river. The restaurant is built out of a tent, but very good with all different styles of fish and seafood. It has become a spot where people from all walks of life go to eat.

Mr. Son said that before tuna became a high value product for export fisherman used only its body to make fish sauce, and would throw away the head since it had no market value. Some fishermen felt it would be a waste to throw away the head of a big tuna like that, so they thought of how to cook the eye as a snack to have with a drink.

“In 1998 or 1999, I don’t remember exactly, I first tried to steam a tuna eye to improve the preparation and enhance the taste. I introduced it to our customers. I didn’t expect that they would like it so much!” Mr. Son recalls from memory.

Tuna is a big fish so its eye is also very big, weighing up to 100 to 200 kg each. If we choose a simple way to cook then we just put it into a ceramic bowl; season and steam. But if we want to make the Ocean Flash dish and serve it in a restaurant we need to go to the fishing port and select only the eyes which are still fresh (it means the fish has been well stored), still with the surrounding cartilage and wash it carefully. We then blanch it quickly in boiling water to eliminate its fishy smell before preparing to cook.

Picture: Deep fried tuna eye at 2015 Golden Spoon Contest - Photo: Van Thanh

The ingredients that are then mixed together in a bowl with the eye are tomato sauce and pineapple. They also help to eliminate any remaining smell, create a good fragrance and soften the meat. Besides that there are also slices of red chili, pepper, onion, soya sauce and salt. It takes about 15 to 20 minutes in the steamer to properly cook the eye and absorb the spices. Then the chef will chop perilla, herbs, basil, mint and any other herbs, and place them together on a small plate to be presented alongside the dish.

When you open the lid the hot smoke comes out along with the fragrance of cooked fish and spices. So the dish is not only eye-catching but also stimulates the taste of all the diners with its smell. Using chopsticks take a little bit of the herbs and add into the hot broth, cooking it quickly. Use a spoon to cut a piece of the cooked eye and eat. All the flavors of the food, fat and spices spread on your tongue.

In order to keep the dish hot during the meal, the crockery bowl is usually put on a ceramic dish with a bed of alcohol which is then set alight. This creates a very impressive image for diners before eating.

... To Ocean Flash cooked a thousand different ways

The Ocean Flash dish has become one of the most outstanding specialties that Phu Yen’s people would like introduce to friends all over the world. Tourists can find the dish throughout the province at any place from the common sidewalk shop to a 5-star restaurant. In most food contests chefs of restaurants and hotels in Phu Yen often present this dish as their signature.

Picture:Tuna eye stewed with pumpkin - Photo Duong Thanh Xuan

“The traditional method of preparing tuna eye is by steaming. To move beyond this one method the restaurants ended up creating the Ocean Flash by stewing it with Chinese herbs,” said Mr. Nguyen Minh Chanh, a 68 year old experienced seafood chef at Sau Quang restaurant (Phu Lam ward, Tuy Hoa City).

“Together with spices mentioned above, other Chinese herbs are also put in the bowl such as jujube (Chinese dates, ginseng, ginger or more. It creates not only a new taste, but also has health benefits like boosting immune system, improves digestion and keeps the flavors of the dish while diners eat it at a leisurely pace.” explained Mr. Chanh.

“But if we just serve a bowl of steamed tuna eye or steam it with Chinese herbs the customer will eat it only once and won’t be excited to return. Or if we want to enroll this dish in the contest this year we need to figure out what to do differently to enter it again the next year. Therefore we always study and research new ways to improve this specialty. It is also a way to renew your own knowledge,” shared Mr. Nguyen Tan Tai – Chef of Hung Vuong hotel in Tuy Hoa City

His team presented the deep fried tuna eye served with banana flower salad in the preliminary round of 2015 Golden Spoon contest organized in Nha Trang city (Khanh Hoa province). The fresh tuna eye was left in Chinese herbs for 10 to 15 minutes, then poached in boiling water to eliminate any smell. It was then dried before covered with a thin layer of flour.

“When the oil boils we then fry the fish eye for just a few minutes. When diners bite into it, the crispness of the flesh and surrounding cartilage is complemented by a bit of the banana flower salad. There is a sweet and salty taste plus the richness of the fat combined with the aroma is quite different than if Ocean Flash was steamed or stewed,” shared Chef Tai.

Chef Tran Cao Phong Vu of the Bai Tram Hideaway Resort (Song Cau Town, Phu Yen province) also found another way to make the Ocean Flash - stewed with pumpkin. Instead of using the crockery bowl he hollowed out a pumpkin. Inside he places the eye with additional ingredients such as more pumpkin, radish, onion, green pepper. He then bakes, and the pumpkin then becomes part of the dish.

Other restaurants in Phu Yen also modify the recipe in many different ways, such as stewed with lotus seeds, steamed with eggs and others.

“Because of its popularity Ocean Flash is now available for delivery throughout the country. If a customer orders fresh tuna eye then we will freeze and deliver with a recipe on how to prepare, and which spices to choose. Or a customer can order it pre-cooked and have it shipped. Then a customer need only warm it up and enjoy it immediately” shared Mr. Son.

The unique feature of Phu Yen cuisine

Phu Yen has two specialties which are tuna and O Loan blood cockle that are in the list of the top 10 popular seafood specialties in Vietnam, as voted by the Vietnam Record Association. This is a good opportunity to allow Phu Yen to advertise about its land and people through the uniqueness of the local cuisine. Nowadays many shops and restaurant in Phu Yen have cooked this dish in their own way. In the 2014 seafood festival in Phu Yen there was a cuisine contest with a theme called “Tuna - Elite of the Sea”. It was aimed to advertise this specialty to tourist. All dishes were made of tuna and one of the most popular and attractive to tourists was the tuna eye dish. 

Mr Pham Van Bay (Deputy of Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism Phu Yen)

Duy Thanh
According to Tuoi Tre Newspaper

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