Cá Ngừ Kho Thơm Tuna – 28 of 365

Cá Ngừ Kho Thơm

Getting out on foot in my neighborhood is proving to be a fertile food source.   The narrow crowded streets jammed with beeping motorbikes, sidewalk vendors selling everything from cow stomach to knockoff Calvin Klein panties, sometimes side by side, and real people going about their real lives inspires me to dig a little deeper into Saigon.

No matter whether we live in a highrise apartment that would be at home in the west or in a local neighborhood that fascinates those of us from the west, I am noticing more and more that food is the one constant that unites us all.  We all have to eat don’t we?   We all enjoy sharing a great meal with family and friends and talking about it.

Some of the better street food I am finding in Saigon is right here in my own Binh Thanh backyard a world apart from the more upscale offerings of District 1.  I could easily forget I am in Vietnam while dining at Shri high atop a skyscraper downtown (and I do love Shri).   But dodging kamikaze motorbikes while walking down an alley only feet from ladies in conical hats selling their mountains of raw pig innards laid out on tarps is the more local experience I seek.   I can get a Shri-like meal back home in Atlanta.   I can’t see live fish swimming in buckets or heaps of tropical fruit in midtown Atlanta though.

"Green Rice from the Steppe"

These back alleys suck me in, and I never know where the end of the road will spit me out.  Today being no different, a grill smoking the hell out of the block drew me right in.  I recognized the smell as thit nhuong like I had tried already at a hole in the wall joint.   Grill smoke is my crack and I crossed the street to see what else Cốm Thảo Nguyên at 66 Ngo Tat To has on the menu.   This open front food shop is the typical dime a dozen variety…metal and glass food case, dark inside, and a hot grill parked right where pedestrians would normally walk.  I got to thinking how Vietnam has eased me into this new normal, and things are just way too sterile, safe and sanitized now back home in the US.

My sign language procured me a fish selection that honestly scared the hell out of me, and fish out of a metal serving tray on a sidewalk is about as far out of my comfort zone as I can get.  But where else but Vietnam can a dollar buy fish, rice, vegetables and a small baggie of soup make leakproof with a few twists of a rubberband?  Within minutes I was on my way meal in tow inside the same white styrofoam box seemingly used by every restaurant over here.  At least a round of antibiotics is only about a dollar over here, too, should this experiment prove horribly wrong 12 hours later.  I picked at my lunch in the comfort of my 14th story laboratory and can happily report all sat well.

This is not a seafood dish for the faint of heart.  Rather than a nice clean Americanized fillet, I was staring down the entire fish minus the head…skin, tail, bones and all.   It’s as if someone just pulled it out of the ocean, lopped the head off, slathered some sticky sweet and sour glaze all over it’s grey skin and cooked it up.   Yes, this was so far out of my comfort zone I almost threw it away.  I took a tiny bite and thought where have I tasted this fish with its pineapple chunk and sugar-spice glaze?   Yep…that’s it…tuna.   So is this what tuna looks like before it’s mashed into a can?  And that sauce?   I would say it’s a lot like good old fashion American sweet and sour sauce mixed with a little garlic and chili kick.

I emailed a pic to Anthony to get his thoughts, and he replied Cốm Thảo Nguyên Restaurant, which means green rice from the steppe, had served me cá ngừ kho thơm, fish with pineapple.   Yeah, Green Rice from the Steppe makes no sense to me either for a restaurant name but then again Golden Corral probably sounds stupid to someone from over here.   Actually it sounds kind of dumb to me, too now that I think about it from a safe distance of 8,000 miles away.

I can’t say I will eat this chunk of fish, skin and bones again, but it did taste good one time.  I just can’t get past the appearance of a whole fish swimming on top of rice.  However, I am glad cá ngừ kho thơm helped push me a little further off the food trail.

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Categories: Vietnamese Food

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