Xíu Mại Trứng Cút Mystery Meat – 11 of 365

Meatloaf with Quail Egg

The daily rotation of dishes plated up inside the glass case of Cafe 91 at 91 Nguyen Huu Canh in the Binh Thanh district elicits new inspiration every time I order my $1 takeaway meal.   Some meatloaf looking items in a metal pan of tomato colored broth caught my attention amongst the fatty pig skins, strange looking fish chunks, and other assorted oddities patiently waiting for me to work up the nerve another day.   The small hardboiled egg placed in the middle of each patty gave just enough curb appeal for me to order one by pointing.   Yes, my lack of vocabulary has manifested itself in my aiming a finger cavemanlike at food and smiling to cover up that awkward pause from having no clue how to order something beyond knowing how to say one, two or three and thank you.

 This was one of those times when having a Vietnamese friend with me would pay off in spades with my ordering this dish by name and knowing which four legged animal had met its demise.   I showed the contents of the takeaway box to the front desk girl at the apartment tower and she just giggled and shrugged her shoulders when I asked for its name.  You might remember her as the one from the other day who failed to identify the beef and bamboo shoots…  OK, maybe she doesn’t know how to express it in English or something.  Who knows.

So I asked her to write it in Vietnamese.   Still nothing.   She then queried a random guy, and some hopeful rapid fire debate ensued but ultimately failed to yield any definitive conclusions.   The lady in the elevator carrying her groceries upstairs?  Nope.   Just a blank wordless stare from her before she averted her gaze to the panel of floor buttons.  I know that look on her face meant why is this white ass fool shoving food up in my face and he better back the hell up.  Before I exited the elevator she did volunteer the yellow fruit atop my styrofoam container is a banana.  At least she was trying to be helpful.

Even if no one could identify the contents of my takeaway box, the taste sure is something I will remember.  Now of course we’re not talking some gourmet spread from a Michelen rated bistro.  After all this is a dollar meal from the local lunch counter rather than some sublime foodgasm.  But meat prepared with some attention to flavor left me more than satisfied as my chopsticks quickly devoured it.   A sauce both savory and sweet with chunks of bitter onion and slivers of milder scallion glazed the mystery meat, and the woman preparing my lunch order had drizzled three spoonfuls over the steamed rice.  And is that slight saltiness some fish sauce making a subtle appearance?  But then again isn’t nước mắm the one ubiquitous constant in all things Vietnamese?  The small hard boiled quail egg nicely firming up the texture of an otherwise soft dish is the only ingredient I can definitively pinpoint.

Curiosity was still getting the better of me days after I ate this lunch so I emailed a picture to an American friend and asked him to check around with some of his Vietnamese cabin crew on his trip that night.   Within minutes he had the mystery meat identified as chả trứng.   So I went to Google Images to see if this name matched up.  Yes and no…some of the pics looked like sort of matches.   Others were not so close and actually downright unappealing.  My friend Anthony eventually solved the mystery of this meat.  Final answer?  Xíu mại trứng cút.   I really like it.

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Categories: Vietnamese Food

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