Tamarind Crab – 78 of 365

A Platter of Crabs

A Platter of Crabs

What’s your special occasion food always on your mind?   I’m talking something so amazing and tasty you dare not eat it all the time lest it lose its mystique.  Tamarind crab night has proven to be just that favorite amongst my circle of friends.  At $10 a crab and a long taxi schlep across town, dinner at Cua Ba Chi (13 Pho Co Dieu, District 5) is definitely a splurge undertaken infrequently.

As with anything in life we can’t readily have, platters of sticky tamarind crab have grown to mythical proportions on our food wishlist.  We even joke the sauce is the Vietnamese version of street crack due to its highly addictive nature.   Unlike real crack though, the only thing this syrupy goodness is going to kill is our waistlines.  The road to this meal may be paved with good intentions of restraint but the odds of pushing away from the table having shown any is about a billion to one.  Tamarind crab is that good.

The day finally arrived for our monthly hit of crack, I mean crab.  Picture it…An open air corner storefront complete with sidewalk kitchen delivering quite the spectacle up close and personal.  It’s much like going to a Japanese hibachi joint in Provo to ooh and aah over the chef’s theatrics except here Saigon adds an element of grit, gore and grime.  Instead of some amateur spinning an egg on his spatula and tossing shrimp into people’s mouths from behind a hot grill, we have a guy dangling a cigarette from his lips while hacking live crabs with a meat cleaver on a wet, well-seasoned sidewalk.   Giving the pieces a quick rinse in a water bucket before tossing them into a battered wok nestled above a large flame hopefully neutralizes any sidewalk spice.

Sidewalk Kitchen

As the crab steams in the wok, oil, tamarind, and mounds of pure sugar are tossed in and a sweet and sour glaze caramelizes all over the shells.  Perfection.  Crusty baguettes mop up the extra sauce straight from the serving platter like some sort of addictive dessert.  By the end of dinner everyone’s hands are a sticky mess and a communal bucket of herbal water arrives for rinsing off all this dreck.  About the time the sugar buzz reaches its crescendo, it’s time to return home to plot the next tamarind crab meal.

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Categories: Vietnamese Food

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