I landed on Phu Quy Island at dawn and was greeted by bamboo baskets full of fleshy pink squid being rushed to the early markets.
The creatures looked so fresh it seemed they were about to jump back into the sea.
Phu Quy is a 16-square kilometer island off the south central coast of Binh Thuan Province.
The island was once called Thu and Khoai Xu but no one seemed to care or remember why.
“Squid” would fit it best.
Tentacles seem to beckon the outside world from every point along its coast. In the center of the island, less-animated squid dry on bamboo racks or hang frozen in makeshift stall.
Squid are everywhere in the homes of island residents, just waiting for someone to toss them into a pot of porridge.
Like many locals, I lived well on a singular diet for a whole week: steamed squid for breakfast, stir-fried and salted squid for lunch, fried squid for dinner and grilled squid for supper--you can never really eat enough.
It's all-tentacles, all-the-time here for many reasons, but the most pressing seems to be how much cheaper squid are than, say, crab or sea cucumbers.
Phu Quy fishermen sail off to sea every evening after an early dinner--of squid, naturally.
A rough night out for squids for Phu Quy islanders. Photo: Nguyen Dinh
I asked to join one night and the sea proved so rough I spent most of the trip balled up on the deck of the boat.
Everyone around me seemed undisturbed by the chop as they expertly rigged sparkling lures to their fishing rods, which they used to draw scores of squid into waiting bait nets.
“It’s not easy to catch a squid man!” one man laughed as I lay horizontal.
The boat returned to shore early in the morning; some squid were still swimming in the catch tanks.
The best were frozen and sent off to Taiwan, Japan and Europe.
The smallest were salted for drying.
To reward myself for my intrepid evening out, I asked my companions for a few squid to grill over charcoal.
They were so fresh they required no herbs or spices. After a few turns over the coals, they began emitting a sweet fragrance--so much so that I had to stop myself from diving a hand into the fire.
In fairness, I'm not sure how much of my madness for the squid was founded in the fresh aroma and how much was inspired by my new respect for the fishermen.
A woman helps pack squids bound for shore one early morning on Phu Quy island. Photo: Nguyen Dinh
The smallest are salted and dried in the sun. Photo: Nguyen Dinh
The choicest squid are frozen for export. Some are sent to faraway restaurants in big cities. Photo: Nguyen Dinh
A big squid being wrapped up for export. Photo: Nguyen Dinh