Meanwhile… back at Thanh Hai snail shop at 14/12 Ky Dong street in District 3, Saigon, les escargots are zapped out faster than Steve Austin on khat. Having previously done the bun oc – good to superb to how do they make this? I want to make it at home – I return for oc ham thuoc bac, or snails in Chinese medicine. Like bun oc, it’s a northern dish – like everything else on Thanh Hai’s menu for that matter – and one probably best enjoyed on the fragrant shores of Tay Ho, (West Lake) up the road in Hanoi. Oc ham thuoc bac arrives in a covered claypot with a side of sweet chilli sauce.
Whip off the lid and you’re greeted by a hot fog of bitter sweet jujube, ginseng, roots, bark and ancient, revered Chinese mandarin fingernail scrapings. Thuoc bac is supposed to be good for all kinds of ailments. Although it appears to have a devastating effect on the written word.
It’s a fantastic dish served in the chilly north. It needs a bit more work and imagination in the thermal underwear free south. The freshwater snails have a wee bit of that traditional Vietnamese chew factor. That’s no bad thing though. I go French and scoop thuoc bac broth with empty snail shells and guzzle it down. It’s bitter and I don’t think it should really be ingested this way, but it’s a decent sideshow to the blandness of the snailmeat and sweetheat from the red chill dish.
I’m a massive fan of snails done the French way and I’ve several soft spots for this northern Vietnamese take on the afterlife of gastropods. But, for my money – and at 15,000VD a dish that’s admittedly very little money – I’d plump for the classic bun oc if you drop by Thanh Hai. More snail shots and here’s the menu. Next visit, stuffed snails. Mmmm.