The crab that lasts all year

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The Mekong Delta's famed coastal crab preparation has caught on in major cities

Rice porridge with ba khía is among the popular dishes in the Mekong Delta.

The wetland-dwelling ba khía (three-striped crab) is most popular in the southern coastal provinces of Bac Lieu and Ca Mau where locals consider the creature a familiar delicacy.

For generations, the crab has been preserved and eaten year-round as a salty addition to most meals. These days, however, urban cooks are coming up with new and interesting takes on the once-simple delicacy.

Ba khía are easily identified by their purplish pincers and eight "furry" legs. Their underbellies are typically ruddy and their flavorful insides are either orange or grey.

The ba khía are typically found in brackish coastal mangrove forests. The striped crustaceans typically hide out in these forests all day but come out to feed at night.

Prior to the harvest season, coastal farming communities typically hold a weekend festival centered entirely around the tasty treat. 

During the feast holiday (which typically falls in the tenth month of the lunar calendar), members of the community wait for nightfall, when the small crabs crawl out of their burrows to feed on the outlying branches.

The hunters harvest the ba khía by vigorously shaking the trees. Children scurry around the trees filling buckets with the falling creatures. Wives are ready to begin preparing them the minute they're caught.

Some of the crabs are cleaned and steamed on the spot. But the majority are cleaned, salted and preserved for lean time. They are soaked in salt water for seven days. After a week of fermentation the tiny creatures will reliably keep fresh for an entire year.

The crabs are often eaten alone, over plain rice.

At other times, they're shredded and sprinkled with lime, chili, garlic and sugar. The dish is typically eaten with fresh vegetables, herbs and rice.

Once considered a provincial peasant dish, salted crab has since become increasingly popular in Vietnam's major cities. These days, fancier restaurants are steaming the crabs with beer and salted crabs are readily available in supermarkets and stores.

The price of ba khía dishes is about VND30,000 for a serving.

To discover the strange taste from the dish in Ho Chi Minh City, one can come to 79 Restaurant, 3D Hoa Binh Street, Ward 3, District 11, tel: (08) 3 963 8272 or to eat rice porridge with Ba Khia Restaurant at Hang Xanh roundabout in Binh Thanh District from 4 p.m. to midnight.

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