This is Quan Oc (Snail house) at 393 Tran Hung Dao street down a small alley in District 1. One reader emailed this spot in a while back. Soon after a couple of Saigonite friends pinpointed the same joint. Finally I’m here. It’s famous in Saigon for snails, shellfish, crabs, shrimp, frogs and duck eggs. It’s one of those restaurants that has built up a stonkin’ good rep. over the years. So much so, the brightspark neighbours muscle in leechlike with an array of six or seven 393-wannabes all within shell throwing distance of Quan Oc’s front door. 393 is still the most popular but, what with all the imposters, this grubby back passage is snailed out.
The restaurant is a classic of its ilk. It’s a shitpit. I wonder whether the owners of joints like this ever look around and think, "You know, it’s probably about time we gave this place a good lick of paint." It’s not as if they’re not raking in the shillings. They’re busy, busy, busy. The three b’s. Quan Oc serves from 1pm, but snails and shellfish are big evening Saigon grub scores. Arriving at 7pm, we’re here relatively early.
There’s a wee stoop level, multi burner kitchen at the back of the restaurant in front of which are buckets brimfull with shellfish, snails and molluscs. Outside there’s a single grill – presumably to keep the smoke factor inside low. I think you’ll agree the g’riller in the picture above has a lovely looking handful on display. Tasty.
A closer look (at the food) reveals a plate of scallops – So diep nuong. I saw other diners ordering these with cheese and quail eggs fried on top. However, our order goes the sate route. Look gorgeous, don’t they? They’re well, well firey and unfortunately the scallops are well, well over done. Very firmly attached to the shell meaning the meat has to be eaten in strands — and that’s never good. However, this dish was the only weak link in what turned out to be a decent delve into the extensive shellend of Quan Oc’s menu.
I won’t prattle, but the tamarind soaked numbers above – So long xao me – (sorry don’t know the name of the shellfish in English) were a sweet, sour sensation. Definitely the highlight along with the Oc len xao dua (Snails cooked in coconut milk) which come in a thick creamy coconutmungus sauce. I’ve blogged this dish before, but I’ll wager this joint does them better. The So huyet xao toi (Blood cockles fried with garlic) were a decent enough score, but a wee bit "So what". Again – I’ve blogged these elsewhere. Quan Oc’s version comes with lovely lumps of deep-fried lardy pork crackling. I almost felt homesick. Crunch. Lastly there’s a very pleasant Chem chep nuong ( a kinda clam/mussel wannabe grilled with peanuts). That lot, plus a couple of beers, cokes etc. cost 129,000VD. Sod all really, all considered.