Cua đồng Sốt ớt Crabs In Hot Sauce – 178 of 365

cua đồng sốt ớt

Whenever a restaurant in Saigon boasts of cuisine from another corner of Vietnam, I have learned to take it all in with a gigantic grain of salt.  With this frame of mind I entered Lang Cua Dong Restaurant in District 3 at 18A/3/A3 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street.  They proclaim to “serve all healthy dishes from field crab” in the northern style, and a friend and I decided to take them up on this lofty promise.

We ordered a small portion of crab in chili sauce having no clue what to expect, and within minutes something most unexpected arrived.  The presentation was quite nice actually with strips of banana leaf protecting a tiny round bamboo plate from stray food drips.  Now about that sauce…This was the same exact slather residing in any home refrigerator and much worse tasting than that mango chicken mess yesterday.

The only utensils on the table were chopsticks and spoons so how on earth did they expect us to break into the crabs drowning in the thick liquid?  Are we supposed to stab these things with wooden sticks in some sort of primitive crab shell breaking and entering ritual?  Miming our need for a tool to crack the shells just yielded the universal symbol for “cannot” whereby the waiter waived his hand back and forth in wild gesticulations.

My friend volunteered that the paper thin shells of some crabs are fully edible when pan fried.  Against my better judgment I bit in.  The whole thing splintered into a mass of shrapnel before I managed to chew a small piece into a sandlike paste.  I am not about to sit here grinding crab shells with my teeth, and that first mouthful probably contained a year’s worth of calcium and some damage bringing dollar signs to my dentist’s eyes.

Smashing the shells with the back of a spoon much like crushing garlic with the flat side of a knife didn’t help matters much either since absolutely no meat was secreted inside.  My friend kept peering into one of the shells as if it contained some sort of hidden meat filled compartment, and I just didn’t have the heart to tell him to give up on it.

The only edible part of this cua đồng sốt ớt was chunks of white onion bathing in the hot sauce.  The waiter glared our way as if we had left behind a pot of gold all while a small crowd gathered around us shaking their heads.  Two old women emitted some sort of guttural hissing and clucking noises and I began wondering if all this buzz was a precursor to some sort of alleyway street food lynching.  Let’s get out of here before we find out.  Check please.  We’re done.

The large, succulent, meat filled, expensive crabs bathing in a sugar sweet tamarind sauce Cua Ba Chi (13 Pho Co Dieu, District 5) are my idea of how a crab should be (Meal #78).  In fact, I downed a healthy portion of the tamarind crabs again this week and was reminded of just how joyful proper Vietnamese cuisine can be.  In contrast, these little crabs done in the “northern style” were anemic at best but at least only set us back one buck.

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Categories: Vietnamese Food

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