Deep in District 3 at 138 Vo Van Tan is a restaurant called Quan An 138. With its open front, serving pans full of items that give great pause, and electric fans desperately trying to stir the hot, humid air, this place really is no different than any other street food joint littered across the cityscape. What drew me and a friend into this place over others was its sign.
Yes. A sign. This wasn’t just any ordinary sign though. This is quite a special rooftop sign. Budweiser as in the beer is plastered all over it with a simple English message imploring us to “GRAB some BUDS.” I’ve always prided myself on being unswayed by advertising and just doing my own thing. Well, so much for that now as next thing I knew I was trying to make a lunchtime selection based on a Bud sign.
Some black balls wallowing in sauce so golden floated above their peers, and I made the rookie mistake of asking if these happened to be “ốc.” Obviously I had pronounced it wrong since the woman had me repeat it ad nauseam until I passed her test. This happened to me once before in the market behind my apartment with the same exact word. What is it with Vietnamese people wanting me to properly regurgitate “snail” phonetically? It’s like some bad version of street food hazing, and I lost count of how many times I tried in vain to say this two letter pneumonic torture device.
Isn’t a snail the same as a slug without a fancy spiral house? Though I like snails, I just can’t shake that mental image of the black slugs we used to exterminate as kids with pans of beer or showers of salt upon their yard invasion. Actually, whether or not these two beasts are related is perhaps best left part of Mother Nature’s mystique.
In any case, these ốc were ok. Biting into a snail is like biting into an overcooked scallop. It’s tough with some substantial chewing effort required to bust it in half. The sauce delivered a tangy, long lingering burn with red chili peppers, lemongrass, and oily curry.
How I went from avoiding swamp food my entire life to regularly consuming ốc in Vietnam I shall never know. You just wake up one random day realizing Vietnam has caused you to embark on one wild ride somewhere along the line.