Backpacking Teacher

Travel, teaching and things in between. Saigon is the focus for now.

Dinnertime in downtown Saigon: Snails, Gigantic Oysters and Chicken Embryo

with 11 comments



Just had a fantastic evening out. I’d been talking to one of my Vietnamese colleagues at the school about language lessons and we’d agreed to go book shopping in downtown Saigon (commonly known as District 1). Leaving school she made a joke about eating snails for dinner and then we went off to town.

In District 1 we parked and then walked down the street to the local Fahasa bookstore. The selection of language training books was quite poor and we didn’t end up buying anything with my colleague deciding that she would have a look for a book when she returned to Hanoi for Tet (Lunar New Year) next week. Without any luck book shopping we joked about dinner and the subject of snails came up again. I’d eaten snails years ago in a French restaurant in Sydney and remembered a slightly rubbery and garlicky experience. Nonetheless I said that I was willing to try – that’s what I was in Vietnam for after all, to try new things.

She laughed as we headed off to the markets and asked if I really would try anything. I nodded, thinking she was still talking about the snails. We wandered down the main street of Dong Khoi, past the splendid hotels and Versace stores until we came to Ben Thanh Market. Outside the market we came upon a mixture of market stalls and hawker stalls the like of which you find throughout Asia. We looked at a few menus until finally we settled outside a stall with bowls of fresh seafood and snails piled up high out front.

My colleague asked again, in passing about trying food and I, still thinking about the snails and feeling all brave, said I would leave it up to her to order. She laughed and ordered. Whilst waiting for our order we chatted about her time living in Paris. I’d ordered a freshly squeezed sugarcane juice and was sipping on this when the a yellowy, vaguely egg like shape, but with spidery veins and dark bits hanging off the side, appeared before me. I recognised it at once as the half formed embryo in an egg similar to the smaller quail sized one I’d eaten the other night.


I remembered seeing a program a few years previously about bizarre foods where the presenter ate a similar thing called balut in the Philippines. I also distinctly remember at the time thinking I’d never eat something like that – not in a million years.

Well – here it was before me and actually looking at it I realised it didn’t look all that bad and certainly looked vaguely edible. My colleague laughed and refused to confirm what I was eating. I dug in and ate away. It was actually quite tasty. It was quite soft and the yolk with the accompanying sauce disguised the taste of the actually embryo which was soft and without any strong taste. Funnily enough the white of the egg was exceptionally hard and inedible. After eating my colleague confirmed that it was Trung Vit Lon aka Balut aka something we don’t ever think about eating at home.

Following our starter of Trung Vit Lon we had snails that we sucked directly out of the shells. I have to say they were quite delicious although the accompanying sauce was a slightly bland coconut, white sauce. I imagine they would be superb with a spicier sauce. The highlight of the meal were a slightly spicy, delicious shellfish in long, sugarcane like, shells. We finished off with raw oysters the size of a shoe and while I am no big oyster fan these were fresh, smooth, slightly meaty and delicious with the accompanying soy and wasabi sauce.

img_0397 img_0401

I would not consider myself an overly adventurous eater, something confirmed by me when my colleague talked about trying spider, the size of her hand, whilst in Cambodia. I’ll have to see if I have the courage to try that when I visit there. I did however enjoy putting my eating fate in the hands of my mischievous colleague. We had a great evening trying out, for me, new foods and chatting about travelling. After dinner we wandered the street looking through the market stalls before heading off home. All in all an absolutely memorable and enjoyable evening. Another Saigon highlight for me.





Written by backpackingteacher

January 19, 2009 at 6:01 pm

11 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Em oi, if you are in Hanoi, I’ll take you to try something inside of the pig and cow, my favourite food hhahahaha…
    I really enjoy hang out and eat here and there with friends and familly in Hanoi. I will not check work mail anymore…

    La fille du soleil

    January 20, 2009 at 12:37 pm

  2. The snails and oysters look lovely….that embryo….well I would have to try really hard not to “envision” the final product as I was eating it…


    January 20, 2009 at 1:51 pm

  3. em … I look forward to some more exciting food … enjoy Hanoi


    January 20, 2009 at 6:57 pm

  4. the oysters and snail were lovely and the egg wasn’t too bad. I did go back a few nights later and tried a different snail which was a bit tougher and more reminiscent of snails I had in Oz…


    January 20, 2009 at 6:59 pm

  5. Very nice. The sheer variety of food here is intimidating, but don’t let it push you around! Sounds like you’re adjusting just fine, it’s also a good time of year for traditional holiday food, so your timing is good. Great to read your recent posts.

    reid c

    January 21, 2009 at 10:01 pm

  6. Thanks mate…. not sure I can handle food any crazier than I’ve already tried but ..never say never i guess …


    January 21, 2009 at 10:31 pm

  7. Dude, you are so much more adventurous than I am in the food department. I gotta’ say, at least from these pics, Saigon restaurants look a lot cleaner than here in Liuzhou.

    Expatriate Games

    January 28, 2009 at 4:17 am

  8. Not sure about Liuzhou but restaurants are generally ok here … I try not to look too carefully though but I have only been sick once so far so that’s a good sign


    January 30, 2009 at 10:23 pm

  9. […] was also the mischievous dining companion who introduced me to trung vit long (embryo in egg) in this post, is also a lot of fun. She must however find our lessons to be quiet a drag because I’m a poor […]

  10. okay the shells look awesome but that embryo yuck chicken embryos look better


    October 22, 2009 at 9:36 am

  11. I have to say, every time I come to there is another interesting article up. One of my friends was telling me about this topic a couple weeks ago, so I think I will send them the link here and see what they say.


    June 1, 2010 at 10:07 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: