Ocean bounty

Vietnam’s long coastline is the source of a host of delicious seafood specialties.

By THUY DUONG on May 14,2019 03:19 PM

Ocean bounty

The snails are a rare specialty with an uneven pyramid shape, a small hump on the top of a black-gray outer shell, and beautiful nacre resembling mother of pearl inside.

Vietnam is not only famous for its white sandy beaches, clear blue waters, and dreamy islands; it also leaves an impression on visitors with its wide range of seafood delicacies. Local seafood comes in an enormous variety of dishes, with the following being among many The Guide is pleased to recommend.

Herring with coleslaw on Phu Quoc Island

Herring live in schools off the coast of central and southern Vietnam but are also considered a specialty of Phu Quoc Island. High in protein, second only to anchovies, they are caught year-round and served in a host of different ways. Herring with coleslaw is a simple but unique dish of Phu Quoc.

Many types of vegetables accompany the dish, including eight kinds of wild ivies and leaves such as “kim cang”, “bang lang”, “dot bua”, “soi nhai”, “tram kieng”, “tram doi”, and “tram ba vo”, as well as home-grown vegetables like lettuce, basil, cilantro, and fish mint, all of which can be mixed into the coleslaw.

On average there are 60-70 herrings in a kilogram. They are scaled, cleaned, and cut into thin slices. The vegetables are carefully washed. Cucumbers are cut into long pieces, pineapples into thin semi-circles, and onion into slices. Chilies and garlic are chopped into the fish sauce, and roasted, husked, and finely-chopped peanuts are added to make a flavorful “nuoc cham”, or dipping sauce. Grated coconut is used in the coleslaw, with some also in the rolls. The herring are quickly boiled in seasoned lemon juice before being mixed with grated coconut and thinly sliced onions. The vegetables, cucumber and pineapple are placed on a dish with the herring mixture, ready to serve.

Herring and coleslaw should be accompanied by Phu Quoc rice cakes, which are larger in size compared to normal rice cakes for spring rolls and a little firmer. They are first soaked in coconut milk, and local people usually wash then down with rose myrtle (“sim”) wine.

Ocean bounty

Grilled bop fish with salt and chili

Bop (cobia) fish are much bigger than herrings, with a fully-grown specimen weighing up to 15 kg. They are among the most expensive types of seafood available on Phu Quoc and can also be eaten in a variety of ways. Perhaps the most popular is in a sour soup, but also popular are grilled bop fish with salt and chili and grilled bop with fish paste or roasted with pepper. The fish has a lovely sweet taste.

The bop fish can be prepared quite quickly. First, the fish is cleaned and cut into thin slices. Vegetables are carefully washed, cucumbers cut into rounds, pineapples into thin slices, and onions, tomatoes and green pepper into squares. The fish and vegetables are marinated separately for one hour.

Pieces of fish and vegetables can be threaded alternately onto skewers and be cooked over a bed of glowing coals for about 15 minutes, so the fish is cooked but the vegetables still taste fresh and crunchy.

Finally, add finely chopped chilies into a small bowl of salt and squeeze in a little lemon juice. This is certainly hot, but the different vegetables, cucumbers, and pineapples help cool it down.

Sea urchin porridge and grilled sea urchin with green onions and lard

Sea urchins, or sea hedgehogs, are a totally unique type of seafood and are the primary ingredient in a range of dishes, from simple to sophisticated. The simplest and easiest to find are sea urchin porridge and grilled sea urchin with green onion, while the local specialty is sea urchin paste, which is only used to serve special guests. After caught, the spikes of the sea urchins are removed, the shell split, and the light-yellow intestines removed. The sea urchins are then added to a bowl of white porridge and cooked for a few minutes more. The porridge is then scooped out and put into a wide-mouthed bowl, with some green onion and pepper added before serving.

The process for preparing grilled sea urchin with onions and lard is quite similar to the porridge. After washing and being split, the sea urchin is baked on a charcoal fire and some lard, green onions and crushed roasted peanuts added for aroma. The sea urchin is fragrant, soft and lightly fatty, and when combined with the crispy and fragrant taste of the roasted peanuts goes great with beer!

Ocean bounty

“Bong thua” and deep-fried squid cakes in Ha Long Bay

“Bong thua” is a worm that lives on the surface of muddy water adjacent to the sea and is found in Quang Ninh province, home of Ha Long Bay. Firstly, the “bong thua”

need to be washed thoroughly, then turned inside out to remove all the organs and rinsed many times to remove any sand.

Not many are used in a dish of stir-fried “bong thua” with kohlrabi, just 100 or 150 grams. Chefs say too many of the muddy worms overwhelms the dish with too much protein. The kohlrabi is peeled, washed, and then sliced. Green onions are washed and cut into pieces of 2-3 cm. A pan is put on the fire, with a little cooking oil added to cook the chopped onion until a pleasant aroma appears, then slices of Kohlrabi are cooked until ready. The worms are added last, then fried over a high heat for a few seconds. The dish is served hot with green onions, coriander, and black pepper. The light sweetness of fresh kohlrabi combines with the strong sweetness of the “bong thua” and the aroma of the onions and black pepper, making the dish especially delicious.

Another special dish of Ha Long Bay is deep-fried squid cakes. The most important ingredient is freshly-caught squid from the Gulf of Tonkin. The squid is pounded by hand until it’s an elastic paste, with grilled broken pepper and fish sauce added and the mix shaped into cakes before being deep-fried in a pan. It’s best served with steamed glutinous rice, which is a famous breakfast on the streets of Ha Long city. The fatty, sweet taste of the squid blends well with the fragrant flavor of the glutinous rice, making it savory and appealing.

Square spring rolls from Hai Phong

Unlike regular spring rolls, those from Hai Phong are in squares. The main ingredient also differs from other spring rolls: sea crab. Hai Phong spring rolls boast the fresh smell of the sea, the meaty taste of the crab, and the sweetness of the bean sprouts and vermicelli. They are always wrapped into a square, about half the size of a hand. After being fried in cooking oil, the spring rolls are cut into four pieces and eaten with sauce, vermicelli, and vegetables.

Steamed spanner crab in Quy Nhon

This species of crab is only found in clear blue water waters with a golden sandy bottom. The seas off the coast of Quy Nhon are one such home, and the crab is inexpensive. It’s considered the best of all kinds of crab, thanks to its special outer shell and delicious meat. The crabs’ hard “armor” is a reddish-pink color similar to that of a warrior, while underneath is a small spine with large, sharp pincers all around. Fragrant, meaty, and high in protein, spanner crab is extremely nourishing.

Steamed crab with salt and pepper is the best way to enjoy the authentic taste of the crab. Try the ivory yet toned crab meat in a bowl of chili salt to understand why the dish is so popular among gourmets - the taste is the equal of red salmon or black cod!

Cellana - Sexy specialty

While in Quy Nhon, another attractive and indescribable, not to mention sexy and beautiful, dish is Cellana, also known as “ladies’ nipple” snails (“oc vu nang”) by local people. The snails are a rare specialty found only on cliffs in just a few places - Con Dao Island (Ba Ria Vung Tau province), Cu Lao Cham (Quang Nam province), Ly Son Island (Quang Ngai province) and Binh Dinh and Khanh Hoa provinces, with an uneven pyramid shape, a small hump on the top of a black-gray outer shell, and beautiful nacre resembling mother of pearl inside.

Cellana hang tightly to rocky cliffs along coasts or in caves and have good camouflage. Catching them is hard work, as catchers are forced to peer under the water, creep into the cave, and search every stone using a flashlight. Once a snail is found, the catcher must skillfully separate it from the rock with a knife. It may sound fairly simple, but the snails can easily break in two. Grilled, boiled, or in a salad, Cellana is always especially delicious.

The simplest way to eat the snails is to boil them, with no need to add any water as the Cellana will release secreted water. Just stir with chopsticks until the flesh turns from white to yellow and an attractive aroma fills the air.

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