Mực một nắng or sun dried squid is a Phan Thiet specialty. The sun’s rays dry the squid a full day before five minutes of grilling complete the seafood’s journey. Of course when I randomly learned of this local delight, I vowed I would not to leave here without at least sampling it. And let the record show for me a food of this nature definitely is well beyond my comfort zone as much as I love squid. The thought of something incubating unrefrigerated in this kind of heat scares the you know what out of me.
After asking the food gods to rain some benevolent stomach mercy down my way, I wrote the Vietnamese name for this squid and asked the front desk of the resort where such a helping hides. While Ms. Nhung carefully deliberated, Mr. Thoai jumped right in and said, “Coffee shop!” I asked, “Coffee shop?” He confirmed ”Coffee Shop, Sir!” as his final answer and pointed into the dark distance. Rain was just starting to fall and I hoped I could make it on foot and back before all hell broke loose. Mr. Thoai then told me to hop in the golf cart, and Mr. Thien from maintenance joined us. Strangely enough this golf cart sports an MCAS Miramar sticker, and off we went in Marine Corp Air Station surplus into the now pouring rain.
A quarter of a mile later we arrived at this coffee shop that seemed more a beverage shop and I am thinking how in the hell does this joint have sun dried squid. Sure enough the woman pulled a bag out of the refrigerator, and I bought all 8 pieces for about $5. At this point I thought what I held in my hands was a ready to eat provision, but thankfully Mr. Thoai took custody of it all. As is turns out this squid was still raw and needed some heat to transform it into something more edible. Choi oi!!! I can’t even imagine the stomach distress had I ingested a piece or two.
We swung by the hotel kitchen where the staff grilled it, prepared the sauces, and sent us on our way once again in the Marine Corps golf cart to the open air lobby. Having enough squid to go around was the perfect way to get to know some of the friendly hotel staff. Evidently they see sun dried squid as tasty and normal as we would chips and salsa.
Mực một nắng is not so scary after all and actually is quite good. The tentacles crisp up nicely much like a pork rind and even have a slight bacon taste. The body is tough yet easily torn into strips that are then dunked into the spicy sauces. And no, it does not taste like chicken. I know every strange food is supposed to taste like chicken. So what does it taste like? I really do not know anything to compare it to other than beef jerky texture with a slight calamari infusion.
Since these odd dishes never do come with an instruction manual, I am glad my new friends could show me the ropes. Even though we only knew just enough of each other’s languages to function on a preschool level such as how old are you and what is your name, we had a great laughter filled dinner. Food really does have the power to cross cultures and bring us all together.