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Thanh Hóa Announces Mắm Tôm-Drinking Contest to Lure International Tourists

How much mắm tôm can you chug?

With Vietnam reopening to international tourism after a two-year shutdown on March 15, provinces across the country have held events celebrating the long-awaited return of foreign tourists. While some localities have gone in the direction of hot air balloon festivals, one commune in Thanh Hóa Province selected a distinctly odorous occasion to mark the news.

On Wednesday, mắm tôm co-op Matomex in Ba Làng Commune became the unexpected host of Vietnam's first-ever mắm tôm drinking contest. The pungent party was the brainchild of Nguyễn Quốc Khắm, whose family has been making mắm tôm in Ba Làng for generations.

"Though most people living here are farmers, my ancestors always went against the rice grain, with my great-great-grandparents deciding in the 1800s to pursue the olfactory perfection that is mắm tôm," Khắm told local media in Vietnamese. "This caused a scandal at the time, but the Nguyễn family mắm tôm is now famous throughout Thanh Hóa."

When asked how this generational tradition ended up linked to a drinking contest, Khắm explained that he recently stumbled upon a live stream of the Nathan's Hot Dog Eat Contest, held annually in Brooklyn, New York, while trying to find a feed for the latest U-23 football match. "It was completely disgusting, but I couldn't look away," he shared. "I was so entranced that I even missed the đi bão after the men's team beat Oman."

Ever the entrepreneur, Khắm brought the idea of a mắm tôm-drinking contest to local tourism officials, who had struggled even before the pandemic to attract foreign guests to this off-the-beaten-path spot of just a few dozen people. 

The contest received immediate approval, and a dozen contestants from around north-central Vietnam signed up, while Khắm's family went to work doubling their production in order to provide enough purple-hued, saucy goodness for the inaugural Ba Làng Mắm Tôm Drinking Contest, Presented by Meta.

Glorious spring weather greeted the contest, and local Thanh Hóa woman Trần Phan Cả Bình wound up shocking the assembled masses by downing an astonishing three liters of mắm tôm, far more than anyone thought humanly possible.

"I've been obsessed with mắm tôm ever since I was a child," Bình told a reporter — who had to stand several feet away — after her win. "I know most people only use it for a few specific dishes, like bún đậu mắm tôm, but I'll dip literally anything in it.

Officials put this down to the last-minute nature of the shindig, as it was only announced in a Zalo group chat two days in advance, but they were confident that Ba Làng was now squarely on the international tourism map. 

"By the time we host the second Ba Làng Mắm Tôm Drinking Contest, Presented by Meta in March 2023, our humble commune will be right next to the likes of Hạ Long Bay and Ninh Bình on tourism itineraries," one official, who declined to be named, says. "And maybe, just maybe, we can prove to foreigners once and for all that mắm tôm is nothing to be afraid of."

[Photo via BBC]

Editor's note: Happy April Fools' Day! This article is part of Saigoneer's 2022 April Fools' Day celebration. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the writer’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner.

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