Finger fish by the pile

Pile of fish for sale in Laos

The Mekong River might be famous for its megafishes, like the Mekong giant catfish, but it’s also home to species on the “micro” side of the size scale (see Fat or flat). Strolling through the fish markets of Vientiane, Lao PDR, can show you both ends of the spectrum: arm-(or leg-)length catfish lined up for filleting (see Full service fish market), as well as finger-sized morsels sold by the pile. This dried heap includes two species, shown below. The longer, thinner fish is the Thai river sprat (Clupeichthys aesarnensis), a relative of sardine and herring. The shorter, rounder fish is the iridescent glassy perchlet (Parambassis apogonoides) which appears a bit more colorful when alive. Although the sprat can reach lengths of 7 cm (2.8 in) and the perchlet lengths of 10 cm (3.9 in), even bite-size tidbits like these are fair game to sell and turn into fermented fish paste and fish sauce. This haul of minifish comes from Nam Ngum Reservoir, Lao’s oldest and largest man-made water body. Whether big or small, virtually all fish from the Mekong can be rendered into a meal for the more than 60 million people who depend on the river for food.

A finger for scale