Cá Cơm Chiên Bơ Fried Anchovies – 154 of 365

Fried Anchovies

Months ago a friend and I watched two guys tuck into a pile of grilled bird product at Quan Loan at the corner of Hai Ba Trung and Ly Tu Trong Streets in District 1.  With the risk of an unwanted portion arriving tableside too great, we hesitated asking the waitress what these tiny bony delights were.  So instead my friend walked right up to the guys to inspect the platter of food and ask its name.  Can you imagine some stranger coming up to you like this in an American restaurant?  That probably wouldn’t sit as well as here in Saigon where the concept of personal space and privacy is nonexistent.

A minute later the guy randomly brought two of these tiny birds to our table as a gift.  His hospitality took us aback, and we promptly thanked him with a couple of beers.  The waitress scribbled “chim cút chiên dò” on a scrap piece of paper that’s been shoved deep in my wallet ever since.  For months now I have regularly thrust this paper into the staff’s faces to no avail.  They simply wave their hands with rapidly twisting wrists to signify the standard Saigon symbol of “cannot,” “no,” or “go away.”  Surely by now they’ve nicknamed me that idiot bird guy or worse since we do our futile ritual with alarming frequency.  Actually now they just see me lumbering down the sidewalk and wave their hands right off to spare me the trouble of fishing out the tattered remains of the paper.

Without this invaluable cheatsheat in tow, I tried to introduce my friend Anneke to these grilled birds.  Seeing “cá cơm chiên bơ” on the wall menu excited me like you just don’t even know since I thought I’d found the elusive bird.  Finally!  This was Christmas, Hanukkah, Tet and a Las Vegas jackpot all rolled into one happy day.  One of the waitresses waved her hands and I just could not  understand why on earth she’d tell me “no” when the menu was clearly saying “yes.”  I’m sitting there thinking how typical as my patience wore thinner and thinner.

You can imagine my further disbelief when a plate of batter dipped and fried strips of something arrived.  Did I not clearly order the bird by walking up to the wall menu and pointing with my index finger to “cá cơm chiên bơ” so as to avoid this type of misunderstanding?  Later that evening I found my cheat sheet and studied the “chim cút chiên dò” written all over it.   Aw hell.   What I had ordered wasn’t even close to this.  No wonder they were telling me “cannot” with their hands.  Cá means fish and chiên is fried…hardly a grilled quail.

That elusive chim cút chiên dò will cross paths with my chopsticks at some point.  It’s out there.  That tattered piece of paper is back in my wallet to avoid any further dining mishaps such as this.  Not that this mistake was a bad thing.   A random order of fried salty anchovies with mayonnaise-ketchup-hot sauce dipping mixture proved just fine in the end.

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Categories: Vietnamese Food

One Comment on “Cá Cơm Chiên Bơ Fried Anchovies – 154 of 365”

  1. May 18, 2012 at 4:59 am #

    I believe it was supposed to be written as “chim cút chiên bơ” which can literrally be translated as quail fry (in) butter.

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