Crunch, munch for a snack or lunch

Vietnam tortillas: Bánh xèo are crispy, fried-then-barbecued streetfood snacks that I relish. This Vung Tau foreshore version has an ageing shrimp/fish sauce aroma that I’m not overly keen on, but the best I’ve tried had pork-and-veg filling, at a little cafe in a side street across from the Pullman Hanoi hotel. I added a dash of light soy sauce to those … superb. USD50c each.

Don’t shell out too much for that soft crab

Soft Shell Crab: it is any crab/prawn – any at all – that is moulting (it has shed its outgrown shell but its new shell has not yet hardened). The key isn’t in the variety or how it’s cooked; it’s all about the timing of when it’s harvested. A few years back, a major airline treated me, and other Travel Editors, to the delights of a chef’s speciality “soft shell crab” in a very expensive/exclusive restaurant at Melbourne’s Southbank. I smiled courteously as I ate, though, frankly, I thought it was like a mouthful of smashed seashells. But that’s my opinion and we all have different tastes – just don’t be fooled into paying heaps for soft shell crab/prawns.
Pictured: Vietnam streetfood soft shell crab/shrimp in light batter, deep fried

Tasty little Mystery Bags

Never let it be said – or written – that won’t give something new a go.

To me, these tapioca dumplings (Banh Bot Loc) look like steamed prawn dumplings still in their embryonic stage.

Verdict: good. Chewy but in a nice way.

They remind me of the tapioca dessert at old Mrs Coish’s Kiewa farm.

In hindsight, a generous squeeze of lemon/lime juice (like Mrs Coish did) should replace the little bag of ubiquitous “sweet chilli/ginger dipping syrup” (ed: the little red chilli rings in that syrup can be hot and dangerous – think of bright blue rings on an octopus).

NB: The “Thousand Island” dressing was on standby in case of emergency tastebud resuscitation. It wasn’t needed.

Seafood, taste food

Real pics don’t do this food justice. But  this is what I’m really eating and really tasting. Believe me, it’s all about the taste:

#ôc tói is a Vietnamese broad term for garlic snails but these big sea molluscs are more than that – they are snipped out by by the cook, hard bits removed, placed back in the shell and barbecued with a mild chilli sauce, mild garlic cloves, chopped green onion and uncrushed peanuts. The trick is to grab a bamboo skewer, get in there and give the shell a good poke – there’s always a juicy portion hiding around the curve.

#scallops simply barbecued and finished with a mild, creamy sauce. I’d pay again, just for that scallop sauce …

Squeeze a little South-East Asian lime juice over all of it, add a slice or two of rye bread, and it is a meal everyone should get to enjoy at least once in a lifetime.

(I genuinely, sincerely, feel sorry for people with seafood and/or peanut allergies.)

USD6.50/AUD$9.60, street seafood bbq, Vung Tau.

China, lobsters and soaring prices

A roast chicken USD10, average live lobster USD50, airport taxi USD30: The huge Chinese “spend” in South-East Asia is causing a rapid inflation of prices.

Expect enormous inflationary pressure to soon weigh on the smaller economies as locals struggle to cope with rocketing property/food/transport costs.

It’ll be much worst if tourism turns away from “once cheap” Asia…

Clarification: roast chooks in SE Asia haven’t yet undergone the Ingham/Steggles “miniaturisation” program and are a decent size, and come with claws and head cooked and intact – woo hoo, a bonus locals love!


Feeling sore and crabby? Shell out for a lunch treat

I’ve been crabby and sore lately, so today a lunch treat: 2 crabs roasted in tamarind sauce. (Crab: You use more calories getting to the meat than you get from the meat. That’s my theory, and I’m sticking to it.)

Eating crab is never a pretty sight, and you’re lucky to not be here watching me tackle these. My trick: put etiquette on hold and lick the shell before cracking it, to savour that delicious tamarind/ginger/raw sugar/soy jus and sea crab flavour, and it also removes a lot of that shell slipperiness (something you’re unlikely to see on those “oh so very real” TV travel shows 🤠).

This dish includes the crab’s, umm, baked “innards”, which I try. I enjoy a roast chicken’s kidneys, but the crab’s organs a bit strong for my liking – but I give them my best shot.

The restaurant staff keep glancing at me … perhaps they think I’ll just do the claws and leave the rest (the legs and organs make a superb pho or stock). Nope. When I’m finished, you might find crab on my face and fingers, but none on the shell.
– USD23.60/AUD35 for 2 big crabs. Vung Tau, Vietnam