Ếch Xào Lăn “Mekong Chicken” – 24 of 365

Stir Fry Curry Frog Legs

My friend and coworker Zeke has yet to pick a food dud and his latest find is well off the mainstream food trail.  Right near Vincom Center at Hai Ba Trung and Ly Tu Trong Streets a place called Loan squats one such nondescript food shop.  This is one of those open walled corner joints complete with metal tables and a sizzling grill out front.  Can you imagine firing dinner up on a Manhattan sidewalk?   Someone would knock into it, multimillion dollar lawsuits would drag on, and then we’d never hear the end of it.     One of the things I love dearly about Vietnam is how Darwin reigns supreme.  If you are dumb enough to walk into a blazing fire on a sidewalk, you suffer the consequences without recourse.  Why wouldn’t someone cook right where people dare walk?  Sounds perfectly logical to me in Saigon.

English translations on the menu assist the skeptical, though no one in there but us would have found this information of any use.   This place is definitely local.  And some of what I read was enough to scare me a little and wonder what the hell Zeke had chosen for a street food experience.   Braised snake head?  Eek!  Actually no, that would be “Ếch” for the frog selections on the menu.

The chaotic surroundings inspired me to sort of take the training wheels off and go a little deeper into the cuisine.  I couldn’t quite make it to snake, but under “Ếch” we had four choices, each $5:  sauté, stir fried with spices, barbecued, and fried with butter.  “Xào Lăn” seemed safe enough since spices and stir fry oil can coax just about any dish into something palatable.  The out of date Christmas garland replete with tiny hanging Santas is such a nice touch and I appreciate Amercan holiday spirit to cheer me on while eating Vietnamese foods quite a bit beyond my comfort zone.

Check Out the Christmas Garland

A large platter much akin to its Chinese restaurant cousins in America arrived a few minutes later and “wow!” was all I could say.  The presentation was pretty for sure with light brown frog legs arranged on a layer of golden yellow curry.  Curry of all things.  Hell yes!!  What a great surprise.  Several green herbs we know from our bowls of pho topped the dish along with peanuts.  Glass noodles under the sauce elevated this dish just enough for me to forget its swamp origins.   This just all works together beautifully and my 333 beer washed the heat of the curry down nicely.

I have never eaten frog and to be honest I find frogs one of the more disgusting parts of the food chain.  Eating one is so far down my list it doesn’t even register as a choice.  BUT, and a huge but, this dish was amazing.   Frog turns out to be tender and juicy though the anorexic amount of meat on the bones is rather disappointing for big appetites.   And no, it doesn’t take like chicken.  It tastes like frog.   Delicious fresh frog.   The texture reminded me a lot of the teriyaki chicken from those fast food Japanese joints in the mall food court…springy and soft with a bit of firmness at the same time.  Every bite presses down into the frog meat before it finally splits.

Only Buddha knows where this restaurant sources its frogs and some things are better left secret.   These could have hopped out of that stinky canal near the airport for all I know.  In the end who cares.  This meal goes to show we can’t always prejudge a food by its name.  Ếch…The Mekong chicken…one of my favorite meals so far.

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Categories: Vietnamese Food

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