I can’t believe it’s already been 6 years since I first tried eating hột vịt lộn.
I remember the place and time very well. My friend Thang and I were only on the first day of what would be a 7-day motorbike ride from Hanoi north to the China border at Cao Bằng, across to Lạng Sơn, and then south again back to Hanoi.
After riding about 5 hours that first day, Thang pulled off the small road into a dusty dirt lot beside a local village market. The image of fly-covered animal parts hanging below blue tarps shading the meat and the vendors is still clear to me. That’s where we would be enjoying lunch!
An old woman with her conical hat squatted on a blue plastic stool beside a large pot of boiling water. Thang asked me, “Do you like trúng vịt lộn?” What?
He explained it was a hard-boiled duck egg. Oh, sure, sounds okay.
Then Thang continued, explaining the egg actually was a partially formed duck embryo/fetus. Mmmnn? … I wasn’t sure how far along the fetal development was? Nor of the answer to that great question of our time – Does a duck’s life actually begin at conception in the small algae-laden pond beside the market’s dusty parking lot? Or, only after it hatches and walks like a duck and quacks like a duck? I guess the answer to that might determine who will be the next President of the United States. But I digress!
I figured, I liked to eat cooked eggs (fried, hard-boiled, poached or otherwise). And I liked to eat cooked adult ducks (particularly with orange-glazed sauce)… so, eating duck in an “in between” state should be just fine, I thought!?
Well, as it turns out, the egg/duck in this embryonic/fetal state is neither egg nor duck as we know them. There is a yoke – rich with capillaries – (yum?) But, the hard-boiled yolk’s consistency is no longer that familiar uniform, yellow smooth/dry texture. But rather, while spooning out the meal from the broken top of the eggshell, I found the texture to be quite variable — ranging from a moist firm light-colored (and rather tasty) gelatinous substance, to the classic hard-boiled egg yolk, to a more chewy/crunchy/what-baby-duck-part-was-that substance. The salt and lime dipping sauce made it all go down more easily. And the liquid surrounding the cooked duck in the shell was actually quite yummy slurped from the shell.
So I enjoyed my first experience with trúng vịt lộn in that parking lot and proudly smiled – pleased that I had choked it all down. I recall, however, that although the flavor was very nice, I did politely decline the offer of a second serving.
In any case, all that is in the past. Now I love to eat and actually seek out hột vịt lộn here in Saigon [“trúng vịt lộn” is the Hanoi name, “hột vịt lộn” is the Saigon name].
But, I now insist on it being served together xào me – with a tangy tamarind sauce. It’s amazingly delicious. One of the simplest and tastiest Saigon street food treats that you can find. And Saigon’s street and alley food vendors offer hột vịt lộn almost anytime – day or night.
This weekend, Hai and I enjoyed our hột vịt lộn 100 feet from the railroad tracks feeding into Saigon’s main train station, “Ga Saigon.” A half-dozen street vendors there offer a variety of snails, bi-valves, mollusks, and of course, hột vịt lộn at curb-side.
We chose Quan Ốc Hương 70 since it had an empty table for us. And what a great find! The hột vịt lộn xào me (with tamarind sauce) was excellent! Hai ordered a pot full of small clams steamed in a lemongrass and chili broth.
The clams were tender and yummy and the clam broth was delicious all on its own.
I chose the barbequed scallops, toasted with garlic, scallions and crushed peanuts. Need I say more. We loved it all. Our total bill that night, including two ice teas was just under 100,000 vnd ($5 USD).
If you find yourself anywhere near the Saigon train station, or just want a fun food adventure in District 3, check out Quan Ốc Hương 70.
Hai and I both give Quan Ốc Hương 70 a YUM YUM rating here at Eating Saigon!
Quan Ốc Hương 70
436 / 70 Tran Van Dang
Open from 3 pm until “late’ (whenever the customers stop arriving).
View Quan Ốc Hương – Yummy snails, clams and more in a larger map