Fried Rice With Ocean Pieces – 12 of 365

"Ocean Pieces" and Nuoc Mam Pha

The dish is actually crab fried rice but some of my Vietnamese friends have in the past referred to it as “fried rice with ocean pieces.”  I rather like their name better as it conjures up a little more local color.   Our cabin crew call ahead to Phu Quoc Island prior to our departure from Saigon and about 45 minutes later styrofoam containers are waiting for us planeside as we pull up to the tiny terminal.  I have no idea what the restaurant is called or where it even is.  My only geographical clue is some collapsed bridge kept takeaway deliveries from making it to the airport for a couple of weeks recently.   Then again we probably don’t want to see the kitchen but caution be damned since I’ve been ordering this for over a year and a half now and enjoying every bite without any ill effects.

Rice is basically rice so all the excitement within my $2 lunchbox spawns from the tiny little plastic bag of reddish liquid complexly sealed up with a rubber band.   Yes, ocean pieces are all about the sauce.  Our post the other day about taking baby steps into the cuisine at Ms Diep’s food shop brought us a little insight into fish sauce, and now we are more than ready to add another layer to our expertise of all things nước mắm.  Plain fish sauce elevated into a more complex dipping sauce, or nước chấm,  makes this rice stir fry one of my favorites out there.  Phu Quoc fish sauce is reputed to be one of the best out there, and I can attest it is much more palatable than some of its cheaper mainland brethren when served up nước chấm style.   Best of all this nước mắm pha is actually quite easy for any novice mixologist to recreate at home.  One part each of fish sauce, sugar, and lime juice dress up two parts plain water and minced garlic and serrano peppers kick it across the finish line.  See?  So simple.  Now you’re cooking Vietnamese with the best of them.  Go ahead and serve some up at home.   You might be pleasantly surprised.

Lunch is From Somewhere Down There on Phu Quoc

This salty sour liquid adds just the right amount of heat to  thin onions sauteed with white rice, and the sweet crab meat is the perfect contrariety to it all.  Yeah, I had to throw in that big word I just learned the other day.  Crunchy cucumbers add some cooling power for the serrano peppers’ burn, and this all just works together.   I just wish whoever is selecting the ocean pieces would add more crabmeat than the few token slivers tossed in.  Trust me, if I knew which street this stand is on, I’d be at the front of the line banging my hand on the top of the metal food case demanding a little more generosity in the helpings.

While eating this latest batch of fried rice with ocean pieces on the 35 minute flight back to Saigon, I got to thinking while its point of final assembly may elude me, I can safely assume everything is locally and freshly sourced from mountainous Phu Quoc behind, the Gulf of Thailand below, and the flat green Mekong Delta ahead.  I know in the end this dish isn’t going to snag the James Beard food award, but the novelty of eating something so local is just a winning experience I won’t get back home flying to Dothan and Meridian.  Then again, a Vietnamese guy may very well be cruising at 30,000 feet from Valdosta to Atlanta while eating some pickled egg from the local truck stop all the while excited about his local food find.

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Categories: Vietnamese Food

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