After more than two months of traveling in Vietnam, here’s something I’ve learned. Vietnamese restauranteurs can be very tricky. In Hue, there was a restaurant called Hang Me near our hotel. Hang Me was famous for making some of the best Hue-style dumplings in Vietnam. It was located on a block with several other restaurants which also served Hue-style dumplings. And those restaurants were called Hang Me Me, Hang Mi and Hung Me.
These other restaurants were clearly trying to capitalise on the success and popularity of their neighbour by giving their establishments such similar names that some people (mostly tourists, I’ll bet!) ended up confused and eating at the wrong place. Seems a bit dodgy to me, but from what I can see, it’s fairly common practice.
So, when we decided to go out for a meal of Saigon’s famous soft shell crab, I really needed to do my homework. You see, most people agree that the best soft shell crab in Saigon can be found at Quan 94. Unfortunately, finding Quan 94 isn’t as simple as it should be. You see, Quan 94 is located at 84 Dinh Tien Hoang. And at number 94 Dinh Tien Hoang is another restaurant, that also serves soft shell crabs and is called… Quan 94.
We had our cab drop us off a few doors down so that we could scope out the street and make sure that we were in the right place. We could see both restaurants, and both places had staff outside waving to potential customers and urging them to come on in. Hmmm. Once we’d confirmed the address with the staff at the restaurant located at #84, who seemed very used to people asking whether they were in the right place, we grabbed a table and got ready for our feast!
We were the only tourists in the whole place, but the staff spoke some English and we already knew what we wanted to order. We started with a few very cold Saigon beers to celebrate finding the correct restaurant! And then, we chowed down.
We began with an order of deep fried soft shell crabs. We watched as the cook grabbed the fresh crabs, cut them into chunks with her scissors, dunked them in the batter and tossed them into a wok full of oil. Literally moments later a plate of crunchy, hot crabs was delivered to our table, along with a sweet and sour type dipping sauce.
The crabs were almost too hot to eat, but we were starving and so excited! The batter was crispy and light, not too thick and well fried so there was no glugginess about it. And the crabs were insanely good. Soft, full of sweet white meat and so flavourful that we didn’t need the dipping sauce at all. We inhaled that first plate of crabs like we thought they might try to run away from us.
After demolishing the fried soft shell crabs, we decided to take a little breather, order another beer and pace ourselves. We sipped our frosty cold drinks and watched the cooks and waitresses preparing the food to order. The glass noodles with huge chunks of fresh crab seemed very popular and I watched as they made order after order for the crowds.
As we watched the food coming out of the woks, we got hungry again. So, we ordered soft shell crabs in tamarind sauce. This time the crabs were batter-less and stir fried with ladles full of tamarind sauce and some onions. The sauce was sour and sweet and the crabs were the perfect amount of soft with a little chew to them. I’ve never had soft shell crabs cooked this way before, but I’d certainly have them again. This plate disappeared almost as quickly as our first round of food had!
We probably should have stopped eating at this point. We weren’t really hungry anymore. But we’d been sitting in the restaurant for over an hour watching order after order of crab spring rolls pass us and be placed on other tables. We’d watched the local customers wrap these piping hot spring rolls in lettuce leaves and happily gobble them down. We couldn’t leave without trying some of the rolls for ourselves.
And I’m SO glad we tried them. The crab spring rolls were 100% crab meat. No fillers of bean sprouts or mushrooms or cabbage. Just a small roll crammed full of sweet crab meat. We ate them wrapped with the leaves they gave us and dunked the rice noodles in the sauce provided. These were probably the best spring rolls I’ve ever eaten. Amazing end to our meal.