The Best Tamarind Crab/Cua Rang Me At Kim Phat Cua Ba Chi In Saigon

Following my early July 2014 trip to Vietnam where I attended the KOTO fundraising gala, I returned to Saigon just a few weeks later to do another guest appearance on MasterChef Vietnam season 2 and work with the show’s sponsor, Knorr Vietnam. You know I can’t go to Vietnam without eating Saigon, so here’s what I had this time around.

Đang xem: The best tamarind crab/cua rang me at kim phat cua ba chi in saigon

Fried soft-shell crab, crab spring rolls, and stir-fried noodles with crab

Cua lot chien bot, cha gio cua, va mien xao cua

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Our spread of everything crab: fried soft-shell crab, crab spring rolls, and stir-fried noodles with crab. Don’t forget the beer.

Crab is king at Quan 94. There’s another crab restaurant with the same menu just a few stores down, so choose at your own risk. Everyone has their opinions—“A is better than B…no, B trumps A by far”—but I’ve had both, and it likely comes down to your personal preference. I will say, however, I had the stir-fried glass noodles and the battered and fried soft-shell crab at both restaurants, and I preferred them here at Quan 94. (I did try mien cua nuoc (crab noodle soup) at the other crab place and thought it was excellent, though I hadn’t ordered this dish before at Quan 94 so could not compare.)

If you love crab, as I do, you’ll dig Quan 94. They specialize in all things crab, and while it’s a tad more expensive than your regular ol’ street food, it’s still crazy cheap when compared to U.S. Prices for what you’re getting. These three dishes, plus two beers, set us back a whopping $21 USD. The spring rolls are fried crisp and ooze with crab in every bite. The soft-shell crab is battered and deep-fried to golden and comes with a mildly sweet and sour dipping sauce. And because I love noodle-everything, the mien xao cua is my favorite. The use of crystal glass noodles lightens what could otherwise be a heavy dish, and lumps of crab roe boost the flavor. Quan 94 was a definite score, and it’s going on my list of regular places to hit up whenever I’m in town.

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Quan 9484 Dinh Tien Hoang, Q. 1

Pan-fried crab tossed with tamarind

Cua rang me

Onward to more crab!

Along with Quan 94, my parents recommended this shop in District 5 for some badass crab (pictured at top). In fact, my family celebrated the hub’s birthday here the year before when we happened to be in Vietnam during his 30th. It’s a very unassuming shop with fluorescent lights glaring down on just a handful of tables. A dude cooks crab non-stop in a gigantic wok on the sidewalk out front, often with a cigarette hanging off his lip. (I imagine the food and health regulations in Vietnam to be very lax, if they even exist at all.) But if that smokiness adds to the crab’s monumental flavor, I say, bring it on. This is some of the best crab I’ve ever had.

As far as I could tell, the crab species in Vietnam are different from what we get here in the States. You can get crab tossed in salt and pepper ((cua rang muoi), but our favorite is the crab tossed in tamarind sauce. Warning: don’t look to see how the sauce is made because you may get diabetes just seeing how much sugar goes into the sauce. But when in Saigon, you must throw dietary caution to the wind.

Show that glucose level who’s boss and order some bread (or better yet, bring your own baguette from a favorite bakery), and use it to mop up the sauce. It’s addictive. We were recommended the medium size crab dish for the two of us, and it was the perfect amount. I was happily stuffed afterwards and could not even finish the bread. This meal would end up being our most expensive in Saigon this time, and the crab, bread, and two beers cost a total of $30 USD.

District 5 may be considered out of the way by tourists, as it’s nowhere near the typical HCMC sights in District 1, but it’s a nice neighborhood to find good eats off the beaten path, and this crab shop is no exception. It’s definitely on my list of regular eats. Try it—I promise you won’t regret it unless, of course, you have diabetes.

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My parents only know the restaurant by the name of the tamarind crab dish it serves, but thankfully, I think I found a name after digging around on the net:

Kim Phat (Ba Chi)13 Pho Co Dieu, Q. 5 (near Cho Ray Hospital)

Ground shrimp grilled on sugarcane

Chao tom

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A quick meal of grilled shrimp on sugar cane with vermicelli and crab noodle soup with snails.

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I’d been having so much crab, I broke out in hives. Something about my splotchy cheeks told me I needed to cut down on the crab, so I opted for shrimp today instead. Yes, I know it’s still shellfish and maybe not a smart idea, but when in Saigon…

On a day when we only had time for a quick bite and neither of us were particularly hungry, my friend and I opted for Quan An Ngon, whose name translates as “delicious” or literally “eat well,” a food court housing several stalls selling various “delicious”dishes. The good things about this place are: (1) it’s fast, (2) it’s cheap, and (3) there are lots of different foods to choose from. It’s good when you just want a casual bite or have a large group and can’t decide on one thing.

I ate chao tom, which is ground or minced shrimp wrapped around sugarcane and grilled. You can tear the shrimp off the sugarcane and eat it with vermicelli, fresh herbs, and fish sauce (which is what I did). Or you can nibble it straight off the sugarcane (which is what I used to do as a child at my parents’ dinner parties).

My friend, who was lucky not to be plagued with hives as I was, ordered from another stall bun rieu oc—a crab noodle soup with snails. Our dishes together cost $12 USD.

Quan An Ngon8 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, Q. 1

Beef noodle soup

Pho bo

I’m sure you all know what pho is. If you don’t, please climb out from underneath your rock.

My stepmom introduced the hubs and me to Pho Hoa Pasteur the year before, and although the hygiene is questionable, the pho is simple and delicious. It’s two-story dining room is constantly packed every time I go, and even though a bowl here is considered on the more expensive side, both locals and tourists seem loyal to this place. As a purist with so many of my foods, I always get the pho tai, which only contains rare eye round steak—no condiments, no extra herbs, just fresh lime juice. (You can’t get Sriracha in most Vietnam pho shops anyway; instead, they have ot sa te, or satay chile paste. But the hubs loves this stuff, so much so that we brought some back for his parents, and they liked it too.)

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A bowl of pho at Pho Hoa probably runs between $2 to $3—yes, pricey by Vietnamese standards.

Pho Hoa Pasteur260C Pasteur, Q. 3

Sticky rice with chicken

Xoi ga

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Ironic that I got my favorite street food delivered to me so I didn’t have to eat it on the street

Xoi ga is one of my favorite dishes to eat when I’m in Vietnam. On one of the days when I was busy, my stepmom had xoi ga delivered to my hotel room. You can get just about anything from anywhere delivered to your residence for a few extra dollars. It’s convenient if, say, you want a banh mi thit from Huynh Hoa but don’t want to wait in their often long queue.

Xoi ga consists of glutinous rice and chicken that’s salty and sweet with a touch of five-spice. Top it with fried shallots, scallion sautéed in oil, and soy sauce.

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While it probably doesn’t look that appetizing stuffed in my to-go container, it’s still one of my faves. I don’t know where this one was from, but I think it was not from District 1. Can anyone recommend the best xoi ga shop?

Have you been to any of these places? Or have you enjoyed these dishes elsewhere in HCMC or even in your own hometown? Tell me so I can make a note and try it next time I’m nearby.

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