Rich pickings at a cheap joint

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A bowl of banh canh cua (crab tapioca noodle soup) served with quay and dipping sauce at Hoang Lan Restaurant in District 10, HCMC / PHOTOS: GIANG VU

Officially, it is Banh canh cua gio heo Hoang Lan (Hoang Lan's tapioca noodle soup with crab and pig's trotters).

But, it is better known as banh canh cua Vinh Vien (Vinh Vien's crab tapioca noodle soup) after the street in District 10 where the restaurant is located.

More detailed directions are not needed. Since it opened more than 20 years ago, the restaurant has become the neighborhood's most famous seller of banh canh cua. Ask any local, and you will get there without a hitch.

The restaurant's key to success is that it uses raw materials that are fresh and tasty.

The bowl of banh canh cua that it serves looks very rich, with a red, slightly thick broth (the color comes from achiote seeds), and a variety of toppings: meat of crab claws, prawns, cha ca (deep-fried fish paste), and pig's trotter cuts. Then, there are pieces of quay served on the side. Quay or gio chao quay are deep-fried strips of Chinese cruller called yu char kway or youtiao in Chinese.

The restaurant's owner says the crab meat is brought fresh from central coastal towns of Nha Trang and Phan Thiet every day. The noodle is made with tapioca and rice starch so it is clear and chewy.

BÁNH CANH CUA GIÃ’ HEO HOÀNG LAN

484 Vinh Vien Street, Ward 8, District 10, Ho Chi Minh City

Open hours: 11 a.m. 9 p.m.

Prices: VND40,000/bowl

The owner also says that originally, banh canh cua only had pig's trotter cuts and crab meat, but recently other toppings have been added to suit the taste of the city residents seeking more protein-rich ingredients. The broth is also slightly sweet.

But, if you want a lighter bowl, feel free to make an order with toppings that you like. For pig's trotters, there is an option of lean cuts for those who do not like parts with too much fat and tendon.

Unlike many other noodle soup dishes, banh canh cua is served without fresh herbs, but with a dipping sauce made with fish sauce, lime juice and sugar. The sauce is eaten with the toppings, and quay is usually added directly into the bowl.

Although the Vinh Vien restaurant serves a really delicious bowl of banh canh cua, there are many complaints about its space, which is too small to comfortably accommodate the large number of customers it receives everyday.

If you are not into cramped and hot places, or sharing a table with strangers, your best choice is to order a takeaway, and slurp away in the comfort of your home.

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