Brittle Shrimp – 101 of 365

Brittle Shrimp

Food really is a wonderful medium bringing random people together.  For months and months one of the van drivers at my airline has shuttled me back and forth from the Hanoi airport.  Pleasantries are exchanged and I then doze off into my Ipod enhanced world for the 45 minute ride without much further contact with Xa since our respective levels of Vietnamese and English about mirror each other.

All this changed out of the blue when our common friend Phuc arranged for the three of us to eat hot pot on Hanoi’s West Lake, and lo and behold Xa volunteered through Phuc he had lived in the former East Germany for many years and can still speak some German.  Ironically enough I lived in the former West Germany at the same time and speak German, too.  Instantly we found a common ground to finally communicate beyond “hello” and “thank you.”

Eat The Whole Shrimp

Who could have guessed a boiling pot of broth and several beers would flush this info out?  By now we all pretty much have a handle on what hot pot is so I won’t waste our valuable time other than to say boiling broth, vegetables, and fish.  Tastes nice, etc. etc.  Get the picture?  Good, because we need to backtrack one course to the highly unusual appetizer that launched our meal…

…”Brittle Shrimp.”   And since this is Vietnam where names of food are generally abstract strings of words hinting at a broader meaning, let’s examine this one a little closer.   These crustaceans are called brittle because, quite simply, their thin shells are meant to be eaten.  Yes, some beer fueled confidence was all I needed to pop several of these tiny jewels in my mouth, heads and all.  They are suspiciously like another West Lake treat, the banh tom, we sampled the other day.  At least banh tom are relatively disguised with that thick rice batter shell.

The Floating Restaurant

After finishing an order of these crunchy critters dipped in wasabi sauce, Phuc told me they are fished right out of West Lake.  Normally I’d be all about eating seafood caught ten feet away but West Lake happens to be one of the most polluted tanks of water in the world according to some show aired on the German tv station recently. So was Phuc just mistaken as to where these tiny prawn things come from?  Or should I dash to the loo and pull a bulimic move to return the shrimp to where they had been living earlier in the day?

Yes, the brittle shrimp tasted just fine, but I am a bit sketched out I may have eaten something harvested out of a sewage dump.  Certainly the barbecue grill must cleanse out all the bad stuff, right?  Well, let’s just keep telling ourselves that.  When I asked Phuc again if they really come from the lake, his answer was, “Eat more.  Good for health.”  Actually come to think of it, every food I have sampled with Phuc over the past two years no matter how deep fried or dubious the origin is “good for health.”  Hmm.

While trying to forget what in the heck have I may have just done to my insides ingesting these prawns possibly spawned in a crap pond, I got to thinking what a small world this has become.  Here we are an American and a Vietnamese who had lived on both sides of the wall in Germany now speaking Deutsch at a hot pot restaurant in a country that only in the 1990s had opened itself back up to the US.  This randomness just goes to show anything is possible over a good meal at a place called Cua Hang Bia Hoi Hai Dang II, or loosely translated I think Store For Beer Two Lighthouses.  Phuc is right.  We all need to eat more.

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Categories: Vietnamese Food

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