Wood smoke, big pot boiling meat, cool sea breeze: stroll down a narrow hem (laneway) off the busy main road, and discover an open enclave where the locals live, laugh and gather to eat as a community. Hidden in the heart of tourism, Back Beach Vung Tau, Vietnam
The taste test: pass with distinction
Does this look good to you? It sure tastes good to me.
See the bowl of sweet chilli dipping sauce? It packs a tickle more than a punch, but the red/orange chilli bits can be little “Smokin’ Joe Fraziers”, and best treated with respect.
The pork chops are thin, juicy, almost boneless and grilled with a salty/sweet marinade (brown sugar and fish sauce?).
The SE Asian egg is full of taste (think of Australian fresh farm eggs pre-1980s) and, mixed with the steamed rice, is a meal in itself.
Cucumber and tomato (yes, again with flavor) are the healthy bits.
Good lunch for USD2.15/AUD3.15.
– Vung Tau, Vietnam, 2019
An apple a day … goes well with iced coffee
She’ll be apples: crunchy, not too sweet, and delicious. Vietnam’s little green apples, táo, add “healthy” to the breakfast of iced coffee with sweetened milk, and trà da (weak iced tea). I’ll skip on the little sachet of dipping chili salt mix (muôi ót) that South-East Asians cherish on their fruit.
A 24-carat lunch for $US3.40
Carrots add character: this colorful combo is fried egg, fried rice, salad and a chicken leg with a slightly spicy salsa of tomato, onion and carrot cubes.
It’s served in a “hot pot”, I presume for looks, as it’s all fried in the wok (except for the salad, derrr) at the restaurant”s streetfront kitchen.
Big serve, big taste, big value at USD3.40. I’ll be back again …
Getting fresh on a lunch date
The little lunch date soon becomes a seafood feast: that’s me when I see FRESH from the sea.
Two crabs steamed (my fav), a lobster grilled, a whole fish (I mistakenly pointed to the cobia, I meant grouper. Oh well) in that SEAsian tomato sauce that makes any fish delish, and a large seafood noodles.
Add an iced tea (trà dá, I relish it), a little Red Bull and a small water: USD100/AUD150 (I’m glad our politicians are paid in AUD, not USD)
Tasty little Mystery Bags
Never let it be said – or written – that haxtrax.com 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.
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
Cool watermelon dipped in warm garlic/fish sauce
Lunch with the Ladies: sisters who own the guesthouse kindly invite me to share their meal.
Steamed cobia fish in a garlic/fish sauce, minced crab meat in a soup with greens, cucumber, watermelon and steamed rice.
The cool watermelon is dipped in the warm garlic/fish sauce for a very tasty sweetness/sourness combo. Mmmmm
Lotus Omelette hides a spice treasure
Savoury aromas tantalise and tease of the still steaming treasure that awaits, hidden from view; the four points of a thin, crepe-like omelette parcel peel back, like the leaves of a beautiful lotus, to reveal a panfried panoply of Asian spices blended with garlic, onion, carrot, and chicken with its juices. (Chicken, beef, pork or prawn). I call it the “Lotus Omelette”… The Beauty Bar, Ong Lang Beach, Phu Quoc island.
(Pictured: takeaway version)