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Anabas testudineus – The climbing perch – Cuisine of Vietnam

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Anabas testudineus, the climbing perch, is a type species of fish of the genus Anabas in the family Anabantidae (the climbing gouramis) which is native to Asia. In Vietnam, it’s called cá rô, or cá rô đồng. Anabas testudineus is known for its ability to migrate from one pond to another by crossing land, especially during the rainy season and usually during the night. Climbing gouramis are so named due to their ability to “climb” out of water and “walk” short distances.

Anabas testudineus - climbing perch
Anabas testudineus – climbing perch
  • Order: Anabantiformes
  • Family: Anabantidae
  • Genus: Anabas
  • Scientific name: Anabas testudineus
  • English names: climbing perch, climbing gourami
  • Vietnamese names: cá rô

Some source says it is likely that this is a species complex, with the name Anabas testudineus applied to what are actually several different species. In Vietnam, there are alt least 3 climbing perch breeds, possibly 3 different species or subspecies.

Common climbing perch

Anabas testudineus occurs both brackish and fresh water. In the wild, it can grow up to 25 cm (1 ft) long. It can be caught using specific fish traps.

In Vietnam, climbing perch aquaculture is also popular because this species is important as a food fish. The fish can survive out of the water for extended periods of time, provided it is kept moist, improves its marketability.

Tổng Trường climbing perch

This climbing perch dwells in the flooded cave environment of Hoa Lư, Ninh Bình province in northern Vietnam. The word “Tổng Trường” refers to the old name of the area. Tổng Trường climbing perch has the same morphology as the common climbing perch, but due to long-term living in the swamps and caves of Hoa Lư, there are some variations. The fish is bluish-gray, and the belly is lighter in color than the back. It has one dark dot on the tail and another on the back of the gills. The edges of the scales and fins are light in color. The gill cap has a serrated shape.

Tong Truong climbing perch
Tong Truong climbing perch

Tổng Trường climbing perch has fatty, fragrant, chewy, delicious meat with high commercial value, which is considered a culinary specialty of Ninh Bình.

Square-headed climbing pearch

As its name suggests, this climbing gourami has a slightly square-shaped head, which is also a little shorter than common climbing perch. Its jaws are also bigger and the fish has dots on its tail and back of the gills like Tổng Trường climbing perch, more visible in adult fish.

square-headed climbing perch
Square-headed climbing perch

Square-headed climbing pearch are farm-raised mainly in Hậu Giang province in southern Vietnam.

Culinary uses

In southern Vietnam, climbing perch is often braised in a clay pot with black pepper. In northern Vietnam, the fish is a bit more prized. It can be cooked in many ways: climing perch soup with mustard greens, fried climing perch, climing perch noodle soup, ash-roasted braised climing perch… Some local community may also have different cooking methods or flavor pairings.

charbroilled climbing perch
Charbroilled climbing perch
Climbing perch sour soup
Climbing perch sour soup
Braised climbing perch
Braised climbing perch with peppercorns
Braised climbing perch with bottle gourd
Braised climbing perch with bottle gourd
Fried climbing perch
Fried climbing perch

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