Street shellfish anyone? After being somewhat gung ho the other day when blethering about scoffing ice sur la rue (but, really, truely – no problems in 4 years and I ingest A LOT…) I thought I’d take the theory a little further at this alleyway stall at 178 Pasteur Street in District 1. At around 5pm every day joints just like this set up shop kerbside all over Saigon. There are three on my own street. Until now I’ve never bothered pulling up a stool, I think I’ve always been a bit too wary.
They all sell almost exactly the same stuff. Bottom left we have freshwater Oc (snails) and on their right some river clams – cheap, but not too tasty. The row above we have some opened clams on the upturned basin and So huyet (blood cockles) in the right way round basin. Further up are some more opened clams and another brand of snail, I think these snails are of the seafaring variety, but I could be wrong. Note the incense sticks. Fly detractors? Hmmm? dunno.
It’s a bit parky in the evenings these days in Saigon. Getting way down to an icy 21C on occasion – brrrrrrrrrrrr… I thought a decent plate of cockles would be just the ticket to warm my proverbials. I order a portion and monitor the process. So huyet – literally ‘blood shell’ – grow mostly in muddy river mouths and estuaries and are so called because when you open them they kinda.. well.. bleed. They look remarkably similar to cockles a la Morecambe Bay although yer good ol’ Brit cockle doesn’t bleed itself into your gob. Different chap altogether out east. This street chef steams them for a minute or two with a wee bit xa (lemongrass) in the pot above.
Then it’s outta the pot and onto the fire. She’s been flogging cockles, snails and raw duck eggs from this location for ten years. She only ever steams or grills. If you fancy a bit of butter thrown in apres grilling, she’s happy to oblige.
Grilling takes about two or three minutes maximum. She uses a paraffin burner although some shell sellers run charcoal powered kitchens.
And here they are, all warm and ready to open up and scoff. They’re not so hot you can’t handle them and they’re easy to prise open – so long as you haven’t scoffed your nails down to a splinter. There’s a salt, pepper, lemon and chilli dip (see below) and a miniature fork for you to gouge your cockle out of its bloody home, dip and eat. I’ve had these before, bought from the market and cooked at home and
wasn’t at all impressed. However, these specimens were very tasty. Not chewy in
the slightest. She’s been in the game ten years, so I guess she must
know when to whip them off the grill. Unlike me.
They proved most pleasant on a chilly Saigon evening when washed down with a Tiger beer with ice – yeah really – street ice and street shellfish – I live that dangerously. I think I’ll have this again. There’s more in this article, although it’s all in Vinaspeak and I see some prissy statesiders got all sniffy in 2003 about the health risks of some illegally imported so huyet. Their loss. Try ’em. I heartily recommend. Between 20-30,000VD a plate.