Grilling it up Saigon style

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Chatting over sizzling meat has become a favorite pastime of locals and tourists alike in Ho Chi Minh City.

There is nothing quite like the lazy gluttony of whiling away an evening in the comforts of the city's "barbeque villages" - essentially carnivore-centric beer gardens where friends and family can gather for long, languorous meals.

If you're looking to join in the fun, check out Lang Nuong Nam Bo (Southern Barbecue Village), Lang Nuong Phuong Nam (Phuong Nam Barbecue Village), and Lang Nuong Thuy Tien (Thuy Tien Barbecue Village).

Almost nothing is spared from the fire at these joints. Chickens, snakehead fish, frogs, goats, ducks, prawns and crab are all sacrificed to the gods of deliciousness.

Unlike Western grill-meisters who tend to brine, dry rub or simply slather their BBQ before slow-roasting or smoking it Vietnamese chefs have come to cleverly cook their critters in clay or bind them up in fragrant leaves.

Scan the menus for ga nuong la chanh (grilled chicken with lemon leaves), ga nuong lu (chicken roasted in a clay jar), ech nuong sa ot (grilled frog with citronella and chili), thit de nuong (grilled goat meat), vit nuong chao (grilled duck with fermented tofu) and chim se nuong sa ot (grilled sparrow with citronella and chili).

Purists, in Vietnam, swear by clay alone.

If you relish the subtle flavor of a given animal, opt for the dishes that eschew preliminary preparations altogether.

The ultra-traditional ga nuong dat set is prepared by encasing a disemboweled chicken (feathers and all) in clay and cooking it in the coals. After being buried in coals, the bird is broken out of its shell and served with chili, salt and lime juice.

Ca loc nuong dat set employs the same method on the toothsome and startlingly resilient snakehead fish.

This kind of fresh water fish has been a delicacy all over Asia for quite some time.

After baking the fish, wrapped in dat set (clay), in coal, the casing is cracked open and eaten hot in a kind of do-it-yourself wrap fresh herbs, rice paper and nuoc cham (fish sauce mixed with lime, chili, garlic and sugar).

Those who are curious to try a few strange dishes, stop into Binh Quoi 1 Tourist Village at 1147 Binh Quoi Street, Binh Thanh District, tel: (08) 3 556 5891 or Huong Dong Restaurant at 68 Huynh Tinh Cua Street, District 3, tel: (08) 3 820 3273.

Places to go...

Those who cannot live without marinade should stop into Pho Ga Nuong Nguyen Van Nghi Go Vap (Go Vap Barbecue Chicken Street) at Le Quang Dinh Street, Go Vap District.

The folks on BBQ Chicken Street like to cook their bird in two ways - on the grill or in a clay jar with a porous bottom.

Frequenters of the establishment find the clay jar method yields a tenderer sort of meat. As the bird cooks over the flame, the fat drops slowly down through the bottom leaving the meat soft and sweet.

To ensure a richer flavor, the clay jar chicken is marinated in a savory honey both before and after grilling. The price is VND150,000-250,000/chicken.

Those BBQ fans looking for atmosphere should head to 3T Restaurant located on the 3rd floor, 29 Ton That Thiep Street, District 1. Tel: (08) 3 821 1631.

For VND65,000 apiece, diners can't go wrong with a plate of charred frog legs or grilled goat ribs in five spices. The menu is broad and relatively cheap throughout.

Located high above the city, diners can enjoy the bright city skyline against a thicket of bamboo. Kim, manager of 3T Restaurant, says that her customers enjoy the restaurant because it evokes Vietnam's rural landscape and because the dishes are so unique and tasty.

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