Lươn Nướng Grilled Eel – 29 of 365

I reluctantly discovered eel another lifetime ago while living in northern Germany, and the salty smoked taste of Baltic Sea “Aal” really does nothing for me.  In fact, I vividly remember spitting that fatty crap right into a napkin almost as if by reflex and thinking nie wieder, never again.  Then again, eel in German is also slang for an untrustworthy guy.  The fact that this sea slime has taken on a negative connotation in Germany at least validates my thoughts on the stuff all these years.

First impressions are everything in life and many years would pass before this junk of the sea would again pass my lips.   Blindly ordering unagi at a Providence, RI sushi restaurant unwittingly helped turn the corner for me since I had no clue unagi means eel in Japanese.   Thus my accidental rediscovery of eel was born, and two years would pass before I found out what this cool sounding Japanese word for a great tasting barbecue seafood actually means.  And eel’s pretty stinkin’ good smoked Japanese style with all that lemony sweet brown sauce drizzled all over it.

Eel again randomly crossed my path recently at the Saigon airport when we loaded about 1000 pounds of the live cargo into my airplane.   As I watched the plane swallow up a load of fascinatingly inappropriate wicker baskets for shipping eel, I blurted out “lươn” to a ground staffer.  My vast knowledge of his language moved him to enthusiastically shake my hand and pat me on the back.

Yes, I actually knew the Vietnamese word for it.  Don’t ask how for even I don’t know where I pick up my most random bits of vocabulary.  I mean I can’t even count past three yet I can yell out lươn on an airport ramp.  I decided then and there this is a sign from above to commence the search for some eel.   See?  The training wheels are slowly coming off my culinary inhibitions.  I did eat frog the other night after all so isn’t eel a natural progression up the Vietnamese food chain?

Back to Loan

My go to place for interesting meat choices, Loan (in District 1 at the corner of Thai Van Lung and Ly Tu Trong), offers lươn in a choice of barbecue, sautéed or deep fried, but let’s not get too ambitious here.  This is after all eel we are talking about…The same slimy crap I spit out in Germany.  Nướng (barbecue) seemed the most innocuous choice for my virgin tastes since that sidewalk grill partially blocking the entrance can surely char anything into some tasty oblivion.   The barbecued skin is much like parchment paper after a round in the oven and that crunchy outer char layer of a well done grilled burger is comparable in taste.   And taste good it did.  Subtle hints of salt, chili and lemongrass flavored the barbecued skin.  Maybe it was just the two beers I had already consumed on an empty stomach due to passing on the Chernobyl cakes on my four flights earlier in the day, but I really did like the lươn.

And I know you’re wondering…No, it doesn’t taste like chicken.  Lươn is more like a really light fish with the texture of the chicken in a Taco Bell burrito.  That soft bright white meat falling right off the annoying small bones left me sucking every bit off much like people do to a piece of fried chicken back home.

I couldn’t get my buddy Eloy to try that delicious lươn nướng.   I do understand though.  Truly.  I’ve been there.

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Categories: Vietnamese Food

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