Taking long walks through Saigon is definitely not a domain for the faint of heart. If the traffic and noise don’t bring the weak to their knees, they will surely succumb to the sultry, rainy weather. Some prestorm winds and cooler temperatures gave a bit of respite from the relentless heat during my latest multihour jaunt. Of course the passing storm left a void filled quickly by that pesky sunshine whose rays stirred the wet pavement up into a tropical sauna. The after rain steam always seems to have knack for picking up any suspect odors clinging to the ground and wafting them skyward. Saigon can at times seem like some sort of steam aromatherapy gone horribly wrong with eau d’crap infiltrating the humidity.
Hoping to beat the heat some, a friend and I stopped off at Quan Oc in District 1 at 49 Nguyen Trai for some cold beer and shellfish. You might remember the awesome clams steamed with ginger (# 140) from this same restaurant, and once again this sidewalk joint delivered. Maybe it was the heat but something drove us right to the most expensive item on the menu for an ốc hương or sweet snail splurge.
Sweet snails are quite possibly some of the better tasting shell food over here, and at five bucks a plate they are considered a higher end option, too. And once we ordered them, random people appeared out of the woodwork to come see who had the cash for such a pricey delicacy. These shells or snails or whatever they are take a swirl in a hot wok with a delightfully sweet and sticky sauce. Then they are pulled out of their most intersting shells with a tiny two pronged fork barely bigger than a fingernail and dipped into a mixture of salt pepper, chili sauce and lime juice. I love them even with their highly disconcerting rubber shrimp texture.
Supposedly the better sweet snails come from Phu Quoc Island, but who knows if ours spawned in the ocean, a rice paddy or a sewage plant. I probably don’t want to know so let’s just leave this minor detail a secret. The white shells with black dots look like some exotic ocean going vessel we would find in a remote tropical paradise. Wait a second here. I live in that tropical paradise that at one time seemed a world away.