There’s only one reason for visiting Quan 94 at 94 Dinh Tien Hoang Street and that’s to eat crabs and lots of ‘em. Whopping great sea crabs, swimmer crabs, stir fried noodles with crab, crab spring rolls, tamarind crabs, deep-fried crabs or those cute little soft shell numbers pictured above. If, like me you’re crab crazy, you’ll be itching to pay this spit and sawdust restaurant a visit. In Vietnam, there’s no tried and tested method of distinguishing a top tucker spot from an also-ran. They all look much the same. No front window, kitchen open to the street, neon strip lighting, 100 litre vat of perpetually bubbling stock, cooks in pyjamas and plastic plates on tables. One of the only ways of knowing where to go and where not to, is by having faith in the word of mouth method, which is how I arrived here.
Quan 94, not only has all the standard Vietnamese decorations, but also the loudest fan in Saigon which deafens diners and looks like it belongs in a wind tunnel. It’s is a conversation killer for sure, but that’s no bad thing when the food is as good as this. A magic meal with less mutterin’, an’ more munchin’ is what you come here for.
We ordered a plate of deep-fried soft shell crabs and a plate of crab spring rolls . Both come served with bun (cold noodles) and the usual healthy mound of Vietnamese hedgerow The wok is soon fired up and your order thrown in.
These ladies might be smiling (well ONE of them is) but maybe previous wok ‘issues’ meant the frying moved to the pavement. These cooks didn’t seem keen on getting any closer than they are to that well full wok.
Oil fire averted, the crabs arrived safely, hot and crispy with a sweet dipping sauce, the spring rolls have their own fish sauce with sliced carrots. There’s something quite moorish about eating deep fried soft shell crabs, maybe it’s because you get to devour the whole beast. Quan 94’s cannot be faulted. The batter is thicker than tempura, but not as thick as a British fish‘n’chip crust. The crabs couldn’t be fresher – they were alive a minute or so before they were fried and they bristled with flavour.
For a country whose cuisine is little known internationally, apart from spring rolls, it is surprising how generally bad these deep-fried wonders are throughout Vietnam. That can’t be said of Quan 94, hunks of sea crab, noodles and minced pork, lightly seasoned and piping crispy hot – be careful not to tuck in as soon as they arrive, unless you want third degree burns on the roof of your mouth.
This place is an absolute corkin’ crab haunt and I will be back again. Lunch for two, with two Vietnamese iced teas: 94,000VD. Quan 94’s business card states, “Sea Crab Specialities – You will be satisfiable [sic] with our pure Vietnamese foods.” And I couldn’t have said it better myself. View the business card and in Vietnamese.
June 2005 UPDATE: Some new snaps from Quan 94 at this flickr photostream.