January 12 and 20, 2008
Cuisine: Vietnamese, Seafood
58/53 Vinh Khanh Street
District 4, Ho Chi Minh City
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.