Mực Xào Cà Ri Curry Squid – 66 of 365

Curry Octopus

While on one of my four hour walks through steamy Saigon I watched a large group of overweight, Birkenstock and fanny pack wearing seasoned citizens emerge from a tour bus as bright red as their sunburned girth.   They passed right from their hermetically sealed, air conditioned cocoon into the equally safe confines of a gated and walled complex on Nguyen Binh Khiem Street.  Oh what luck they only had a fifteen foot passage through the wild wild west of the open sidewalks.  An English sign even advertises this as “Where Food and Art Meet.”  Really?  In a tourist restaurant behind a wall shielded from Saigon’s hustle and bustle?

I got to thinking about the concept of art, something I admittedly have little interest in.  Saigon is like a canvas.   Actually it’s more like an abstract Picasso or Kandisky where things at first glance are just blurred shapes piled randomly on top of each other with no sense of order.  Only by peeling back these colorful layers can we begin to interpret this masterpiece.  I feel sorry for the tour bus crowd schlepping around from stop to stop as outsiders rather than insiders exploring the city’s true fabric.  I’d love for them to experience my world and go way beyond the tourist trail.  I mean why travel all this way only to not immerse fully into the culture?

Octopus with the Curry Sauce

Come with me deep into my Saigon where the street food joints are the artists and the food is the paint.  It all melds into one classic.  And just like art in a museum, some are identifiably mainstream.  And of course some foods make me wonder what the heck.  And then there are the ones with a bit of an edge that take me beyond my comfort zone such as a curious looking something floating in a yellow liquid at District 1’s Com 37 at 37 Ly Tu Trong.  This one hadn’t crossed my path yet in the daily rotation of dishes so why not?

I said a little prayer that the suction cups on the tentacles would give these things at least a couple hours of traction as they swam through me.   We don’t need to risk this stuff shooting on through during a long walk.  Curry octopus turns out to be just fine for the body as well as the tastebuds.   It’s rubbery for sure and lacking in much natural taste, but all in all not as scary as it looks.   It’s like eating something with the consistency of overcooked calimari but with a sauce tasting so much spicier and better than tikka masala or anything from an Indian takeaway.

And don’t let the price tag fool you.  A buck fifty for some meat, rice, vegetable, and soup may seem like some pretty cheap art but trust me, eating in Saigon is more like a Monet than some Painting By Numbers imitation.

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Categories: Vietnamese Food

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