Archive for the 'Seafood' Category

Seafood a la Sidewalk

February 15, 2008
Cuisine: Vietnamese, Seafood

Ton That Thuyet Street
District 4, Ho Chi Minh City

Phone: none
Website: none

Fruits of the Sea – clockwise from top left – condiments for dipping, blood cockles sauteed in tamarind, grilled mussels, clams sauteed in garlic (25,000 VND per dish)

My friend Luscious loves food with a passion, so I’m working overtime to introduce her to the very best of Vietnamese cuisine during her month-long stay.

We’ve had lots of great food thus far, but the one eatery that made her squeal with utter delight was the seafood shack we stumbled into in District 4.

The blood cockles smothered in sweet and tangy tamarind sauce knocked our socks off. There were definitely numerous oohs and ahs as we hungrily dug into the plate. The Astronomer bought some baguettes from the vendor down the street to sop up the divine sauce because it’s criminal to discard something so perfect.

The clams with garlic were also finger lickin’ good! What’s there not to love about tender clams dressed in hunks of sweet garlic? These morsels were not as intense as the cockles, but truly just as tasty.

Our last course of the evening were the grilled mussels. I find it rather funny that chem chép nướng means exactly the same thing from seafood shack to seafood shack—grilled mussels topped with scallion oil and crushed peanuts. Where’s the creativity? The grilled mussels tasted just like they did at previous sidewalk seafood eateries; smoky, crunchy and yummy.

We walked back to the apartment with greasy lips and happy bellies.

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Bé Ốc

January 12 and 20, 2008
Cuisine: Vietnamese, Seafood

58/53 Vinh Khanh Street
District 4, Ho Chi Minh City

Phone: 0903658293
Website: none

Chao Ngheu – clam porridge (20,000 VND)

So Huyet Xao Toi – blood cockles fried in garlic (20,000 VND)

Oc Mo Xao Me – snails sauteed in tamarind (20,000 VND)

Chem Chep Nuong – grilled mussels with scallion oil and peanuts (20,000 VND)

Ngheu Hap Xa – clams steamed with lemongrass (20,000 VND)

Hot Vit Lon Xao Me – fertilized duck with tamarind (5,000 VND)

Cua Rang Muoi – crab prepared with salt and garlic (80,000 VND)

So Huyet Xao Me – blood cockles sauteed in tamarind (20,000 VND)
Bé Ốc is a bumpin’ sidewalk seafood joint in District 4 I discovered a few weeks back while taking a xe om. The Astronomer and I, along with our friends Zach and Tom and Tom’s GF Vuong, came here for dinner last Saturday after a long day of pretending to be tourists at the Cu Chi Tunnels and the Cao Dai Temple.
Sidewalk seafood eateries in Saigon usually begin setting up shop at around 5 PM. Their menus tend to be heavy on the protein, light on the carbohydrates and cheap in the beer department. Talk about the perfect formula for getting extremely wasted! The restaurant’s main clientèle are chain smoking, beer guzzling, middle-aged guys looking to relax after a hard days work. Woot to that! There’s also a spattering of families and women, and the occasional expatriates.
I have found that it is really difficult in Vietnam to get waiters and waitresses’ opinions on the best dishes of the house. I’ve pretty much stopped asking because their response most of the time is “everything is good,” which isn’t the least bit helpful.
Directionless, we decided to order a slew of shellfish and crustaceans prepared in a variety of ways. We also ordered a large bowl of clam porridge to share and a couple hot vit lon for good measure.
Everyone thought that the snails sauteed in tamarind were stellar. In fact, Zach proclaimed them the best thing he’s tasted in the country! The spicy, sweet and sour flavors hit all the right notes, and the little bits of rendered pork fat and garlic paired tastily with the tender snails.
Another highlight were the grilled mussels with scallion oil and crushed peanuts. The mussels were lightly cooked and smoky, while the peanuts and scallions provided depth and texture to the dish. It’s incredible how such simple ingredients can yield deliciously complex flavors!
One of the most interesting dishes of the evening was the duck fetus. Hot vit lon, which is usually eaten fresh out of the shell with herbs, salt and pepper, was dressed to the nines at Bé Ốc. The tamarind, fried shallots, peanuts and basil completely overpowered the defenseless duckling, which was actually not a bad thing because without adornments, the fetus looks like unappetizing gray matter.
We finished off our seafood feast with piping hot clam porridge, which had an abundance of clams and subtle ginger and cilantro undertones. While hot porridge doesn’t usually appeal to me in the intense Saigon heat, the cool breeze blowing through District 4 this evening made it quite palatable.
Bé Ốc is good times. Bring your friends.

Eating in Phú Quốc

The Astronomer and I just got back from the most kick-ass vacation ever! Phu Quoc Island off the coast of Vietnam and Cambodia is paradise on earth. Seriously. Clear turquoise waters, abundant sunshine, sandy beaches, and seafood a plenty. Heavenly.

We arrived last Friday morning and flew home Monday afternoon. In between, we sunned on the beach, snorkeled, read, relaxed, and ate extremely well.

After checking in at our hotel and dropping off our luggage, we walked into town in search of lunch. The Astronomer was starving and impulsively chose Thuy Duong at 25 Nguyen Trai Street. The place was infested with flies, which killed my appetite, but The Astronomer ordered a bowl of hu tieu dai muc (top row, left) anyway. When the bowl arrived, it looked SO good that I had to order myself one. The noodle dish was comprised of a pork-based broth, a transparent and chewy noodle (hu tieu dai), bean sprouts, fresh scallions, and lightly cooked squid (muc). Everything tasted so fresh and the squid blew our minds. I think the squid in Phu Quoc has forever ruined squid elsewhere for me.

After lunch, we headed to the market to look around and score some more eats. I bought lots of fruit, while The Astronomer procured cookies (banh kep) and a barbecued meatball sandwich (banh mi nem nuong – top row, center). The sandwich was good, but his heart remains true to the banh mi thit nuong in District 4.

Dinnertime brought more delicious squid! We stayed close to home and ate at our resort—Kim Nam Phuong. We ordered squid sauteed with garlic and ginger (top row, right) and a plate of pan fried noodles with squid and shrimp (middle row, left). The dishes were stellar all around. I love how seafood is completely satisfying and not too filling.

For breakfast the next morning, I ate fruit and cereal, while The Astronomer ordered a pineapple crepe (middle row, center) from the resort. We ate our selections beach side, ah… The Astronomer thought the crepe was a bit dough-y, but a great way to start the day nevertheless. After breakfast, we decided to upgrade our lodging and moved to the Tropicana Resort.

After we set up our new digs and lounged around in the sun, we headed to the Troicana’s sweet beach front dining deck for lunch. The Astronomer ordered fish with chilies and lemongrass (middle row, right), while I ordered a squid salad (bottom row, left). The fish was a bit spicy for The Astronomer, while I found my salad average. The Tropicana may have nicer bungalows, but the chefs at the Kim Nam Phuong are superior.

The following day, The Astronomer and I went on an all-day snorkeling excursion along the southern islands of Phu Quoc. The sites were postcard perfect and the food on board was expertly prepared. The best dish was the squid sauteed with pineapples and tomatoes (bottom row, center). This was hands down the most wonderful squid I have ever tasted. Who would have thought squid could melt in one’s mouth? I really don’t think I could ever order calamari at an Italian restaurant ever again. Another great dish was the fried fish (bottom row, right), which was covered with red chili flakes.

Now that I’m back in Saigon, I will be dreaming about the fruits of the sea in Phu Quoc until I return.

Dai Duong

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September 2, 2007
Cuisine: Seafood, Vietnamese

Bai Tam My Khe
Da Nang, Vietnam

Phone: 0511940989
Website: none

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Grilled Clams with Scallions, Tomatoes, Onions (35,000 VND)

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Lemongrass Snails (40,000 VND)

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Thin Egg Noodles with Squid, Tomatoes, and Spinach (40,000 VND)

Before flying back to Saigon, The Astronomer and I had a dinner date with Cathy. She took us to her favorite seafood eatery located yards away from Da Nang’s China Beach. The view and food at Dai Duong were both stellar. It doesn’t get any fresher than eating seafood by the sea.

Cathy recommended that we order the grilled clams. She had them once prior and found them delightful. The clams were smothered with sautéed onions, scallions and tomatoes, which brought about subtle flavors that didn’t drown out the clams’ natural goodness—another excellent call by Cathy.

I initially ordered an eel dish, but the restaurant was fresh out. I opted instead for snails. The snails were de-shelled, humongous, and seasoned with deliciously long strands of lemongrass. While some may find the texture of snails overly chewy, I really dig it. The snails were The Astronomer’s and my favorite dish of the evening.

For the carbohydrate portion of our meal, we had steamed white rice and a plate of stir fried noodles. The noodles were a bit on the mushy side, but the tomatoes and squid delivered a double punch that saved the dish.

Buddha Bay

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August 30, 2007
Cuisine: Seafood, Vietnamese

Buddha Bay
Da Nang, Vietnam

Phone: 0511920388
Website: http://www.buddha.com.vn/

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Goi Buoi Muc – pomelo and squid salad (80,000 VND) 

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Ca Hap Hanh Gung – steamed fish with ginger and onions (252,000 VND)

While vacationing in Da Nang, The Astronomer and I took our hotel’s tandem bike for a spin up Monkey Mountain. Even though the bike was made for a vertically-challenged couple, we managed to attack the hills like champs and not swerve off the road. We rule.

After biking (mostly) uphill for eight miles, we took a much needed dip at a beautiful private beach. Sadly, a jellyfish sting on my arm ended our beach fun early. We packed up our things, hopped back on our bike, and explored a pagoda with an intensely gorgeous view for the rest of the morning. After taking in the sites at the pagoda, we biked to Buddha Bay for lunch.

The Buddha Bay restaurant is located right on the water and boasts spectacular views. The furnishings are understated and blend in seamlessly with the tropical surroundings.  We were seated in a private “cabana” (or floating raft according to The Astronomer) and had a waitress serving us throughout our meal. The service was a little too attentive for my laidback state, but that’s the way hospitality goes at nice restaurants in Vietnam.

Not wanting anything too heavy, I ordered a pomelo and squid salad. The salad was served inside a hollowed-out pomelo and contained huge pieces of squid, fried shallots, and dressed in a spicy fish sauce vinaigrette. The salad’s tart and sweet flavors were so simple and yet so amazing. Sorry to get all TomKat on you.

The Astronomer ordered a whole steamed fish with ginger and scallions, which our diligent waitress deboned. The fish was cooked to order and thus incredibly fresh and flavorful. Although we’re not sure what type of fish it was, its flesh was white and flakey. The Astronomer enjoyed the fish with rice, even though rice paper and greens were available for making rolls.

Totaling $20, our feast at Buddha Bay was easily our most expensive Vietnamese meal to date. The food was good, but it was the restaurant’s natural and peaceful ambiance that made our experience truly memorable.  

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