Sunday, February 14, 2010

Saigon, Vietnam - Saigon Seafood Stalls

Saigon Seafood Stall

After J and I got back from eating banh xeo and bun bo hue earlier in the day, we headed back to rest. We were still jetlagged and again I found myself falling asleep to another great English Premier League match. I love that Asia has games going on all day long on TV. We woke up and it was now 10 pm and we still had not eaten. Rather than take the scooter out into the wild streets of Saigon, we decided to do it like foraging tribesman and walk around. And I has had stated earlier on my breakfast hunt, you don't need to go far to find food in Saigon. All you really have to do is stand and do a 360, and you'll realize that it is actually the food that finds you. Pho was cooking on the left. Banh mi was being prepared on the right. But straight ahead, we were attracted to a small stand lit by the greenish, fluorescent lights that seem to be so prominent in Asia. Like moths in flight, we headed towards the light source.

Saigon Seafood Stall

The lady behind the stall spotted us approaching her stand and smiled, pointing at the tiny red and blue stools in front of her. We could hear the sound of something heavy being cooked in her pan, a sound very similar to the shuffling of Mahjong tiles. Based on the pitch, we knew it could only be one thing: mollusks. But she wasn't just offering a few clams, her little humble stand offered you a nice glimpse of the ocean. She told us to come up and waved her hands over her offerings like a magician about to reveal his trick. There was an enough assortment of 'fruits of the sea' to give you a food boner. Shrimp, squid, crab and clams I had never seen before. This was like Jacques Costeau's snack shop.

Saigon Seafood Stall

Saigon Seafood Stall

Saigon Seafood Stall

Saigon Seafood Stall

Saigon Seafood Stall

Saigon Seafood Stall

Saigon Seafood Stall

Saigon Seafood Stall

There are many tough decisions you make in life, like friendships, relationships and careers. Add this seafood dilemma to the long list because there was just too much going on. I love extensive menus but when almost everything looks appetizing, I get very annoyed. So we picked a few, mainly rarities, and she asked if we wanted a choice of garlic, spicy garlic or sweet & sour tamarind sauce. We asked for one of each with our dishes.

Saigon Seafood Stall

Blood Clams with Tamarind Sauce
Beside the fact that these delicious clams are banned in Shanghai for carrying hepatitis, typhoid and dystentery, this was my first time trying the 'blood clam'. The shell itself has a pattern of rivets and a more jagged texture to your standard Manila clam. The rivets themselves are almost the perfect type of clam to serve with a sauce because they can 'hold' the sauce in its grooves. I picked up the clam and sucked all the sauce off the shell, it was slightly spicy and tangy. Quite good considering I don't really care for dishes that call for tamarind paste. All the clams were shut and suggested they were either very stubborn or not cooked through. But with little effort, the clam gave in to me. To my surprise, the clam was dark red in color, and the juice had almost a muddy brown color. I took the juice in and tasted something deep, earthy and slightly muddy. And it was fantastic. I personally decimated this blood clam village. Had I known that there was a potential threat of contracting hepatitis, I might not have eaten it. But I'm glad I did.

Saigon Seafood Stall

Razor Clams with Spicy Garlic Sauce
I'll never forget the way we had to remove a razor clam from its shell back when I worked in a restaurant. A razor clam can range anywhere from 4" to 8-9" with varied widths of 1/4" to 1". The shell is rectangular and opens exactly like a book. With the head and tail ends of the clam exposed, this isn't the most protected clams out there but it's not easy opening. In order to get the clam out you take a paring knife, nudge the blade in between the shell and slash down the line of the shell, basically slicing the clam lengthwise. What happens next varies. You'll either see the clam ooze out of one end, wriggling in pain or see some sort of bodily fluid ooze out of the body. One time, that fluid nailed a colleague in the face and she shrieked in disgust. It's a bit cruel but the fastest way to get it in your stomach. The ones I had here with by far a midget version of American razor clams. The shells were super thing and with enough force, can probably be broken quite easily. I loved these clams for their king mushroom-like texture and garlicky sauce. This dish was also completely finished.

Saigon Seafood Stall

Sea Snails with Garlic Sauce
I enjoy evicting these mollusks out of their homes. A simple pronged utensil, a steady pull and you've got your buck naked snail. I love snails but it's VERY easy to overcook them. When they are overcooked, they are almost rubber-like – not tasty. We didn't finish these.

As we sat there in front of the stall, we completely forgot about our surroundings. This whole seafood meal only cost EIGHT DOLLARS and was more than worth it. We were in the middle of a busy intersection in Saigon's District 1, eating seafood. I think we're too used to eating seafood this fresh by the sea. I didn't think about it during the time, but you may want to be careful considering the fact that not many vendors refrigerate or ice their goods. Seafood generally has to stay cool, so be aware. But if this seafood stall wasn't doing things right, it wouldn't be packed every night with customers. For the most part, if you're willing to be adventurous with street food, you'll be rewarded. This stall is one of many in the city. I had heard that there was even a seafood alley in the city. Man how I love blood clams and razor clams! Thanks for reading.

Saigon Seafood Stall
Bui Vien (1/2 a block east of De Tham)
District 1

More postings on Saigon, Vietnam:
Saigon, Vietnam - Hello Saigon, Nice to Meet You and Eat You
Saigon, Vietnam - Banh Xeo 46A, a Taste of Vietnamese Crepes
Saigon, Vietnam - Bun Bo Hue, An Afternoon with Nguyen Thi Thanh


H. C. said...

sounds fantastic, except for all the food safety hazards you noted --

Guess I should heed the "ignorance is bliss" and "whatever that doesn't kill you . . ." mantras!

But many, all that variety of foods available from that little shack (and for so cheap!) that lady is one impressive seafood sorceress!

Gastronomer said...

Aw yeeeeaaah! Sidewalk seafood totally RULES!

One Food Guy said...

That's some seafood feast. The shells on those blood clams make them look an awful lot like the English cockles, which are also quite tasty.

weezermonkey said...

Amazing stuff. I'm not much of a bivalve girl, but I'd be all over that crab.

e d b m said...

H.C., my eyes lit up as I was reading the news on the blood clam/hepatitis thing haha. Sometimes it doesn't hurt to do SOME research right?

Gastronomer, if her name was only Sally she could have her own customized business jingle about selling seashells. I can't believe this meal was so cheap.

OFG, aww yeah you're right. The shells are similar to that of cockles. man can't wait to hit the boston seafood scene with you.

Weezer, you know i love that you used the word 'bivalve'. i'm going to ask for some 'steamed bivalves with chorizo and butter' please. sounds sexy.

Michelle said...

At first, being the pre-teen that I was then, I was totally freaked out by these stalls but thank gosh, now I've realized that the best food sometimes comes from the dirtiest looking places!

Mmm possibly returning to VN this summer, can't wait.

Bill said...

LOL - almost choked on my oatmeal.
Looks like an aphrodisiac fest.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi E D B M,

Your photography and writing continue to amaze me! :) Seriously subarashii~! :)

The whole wealth of the sea available to you in the middle of Saigon. Wow. Thanks again.

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