Melissa, Ryan and I had given this place at 105 Nguyen Huu Canh a quick glance recently but decided to pass until a later day. Curiosity has definitely been getting the better of me each time I wander past, but in the end I have just been afraid to take the plunge at this place just next door to our apartment towers. Bowls of snails, bivalves and other assorted shells piled in the metal and glass serving cart both repulse and fascinate me, and on one of my walks I lingered in front of the case just a hair too long.
Not two seconds into my latest inspection of what I believe is called Cô Bảy 3 restaurant, an English speaking guy walked up on me with menu in hand and tried to sell me with “Very good. You try.” I try what? Food from a place the health department back home would have given a cease and desist order? Reflex caused me to give my standard “I don’t know,” but before I could bolt, a young girl was pushing me towards a dollhouse sized table and chair next to a child’s playpen inside this concrete shack. Yeah, I stayed but under the guise of scoping this out for Ryan and Melissa and any other friend who might want to eat here. You know, “research…”
The Vietnamese menu contained some words I have picked up on this food journey such as barbecue, fried and grilled. I sat there all smug that I could sort of order now and thought back to not even a few months ago when selecting a meal was, for lack of a better term, a royal pain in the butt. I settled on sò lông nướng mỡ hành purely because its long name contained lots of neat little accent marks above the vowels, and at $2 the price was right. You might recognize “nướng” from the grilled pork we sampled just a block further down the road at a similar dive joint, and this word clued me in this would be a barbecued dish of some sort. A grill kills any and all bad stuff in food, right? I mean who knows how this experiment is going to pan out six hours later so I need all the help a little heat can give.
How all those letters and accent marks translate to “nap scallop” I have no clue since this isn’t the juicy white variety we know in the western world. What is a nap scallop anyhow? All I know is the penny size meat inside this shell is more mussel like with its orangish color, rubbery outer skin and insides that leave a squirt in the mouth. Thin shells blackened by the grill cradle the meat, some sort of soft pork rind tasting vaguely like bacon (but with the texture of candied ginger), scallions and peanuts. Pork rind and “scallop” meat? Heck yeah!! This proves once and for all a bacon product makes anything taste good, and the peanuts add some nice, albeit empty calorie, sweet crunch.
A dipping paste of salt, pepper and lime juice adds just enough acidic bite, yet no single flavor in the entire dish overpowers the other. I did pass on the giấp cá (fish mint) garnish though. The fish taste and smell of this herb are just a little too over the top for me at this point in my culinary journey. I’ve tried it before and I just don’t know why Mother Nature infused a piece of lettuce like greenery with essence of anchovy. Scary really. Did she lose her mind that day? What isn’t scary though is this restaurant after all, and I now have an entire menu to work my way through one bite at a time.