Crawfish

A couple of weeks ago I went to The Boiling Crab in Little Saigon for a crawfish fix.  I’m not that into crawfish, but I thought why not?  It seems to be a popular joint down there.  And I love crustaceans.

The restaurant is a typical crawfish-ish joint, if that makes any sense.  Hay and sawdust on the floor, loud rock music, big screen TV’s playing football, predictable “Gone Fishing” type wooden painted signs on the walls, big barrels posing as bar tables, customers wearing plastic bibs, petite waitresses wearing tight logo T-shirts.  You get the picture?  The only weird thing was that this was in a small stripmall in Little Saigon tucked between a Vietnamese DVD store and a banh cuon joint; oh, and all the customers were Asian.

Well, I got my bib on, toasted with a bottle of Corona, and ordered the house specialty.  Crawfish here is ordered by the pound, and you can choose between several seasonings (garlic butter, ragin’ cajun, lemon pepper, or the whole sha-bang, which is a combo of the 3 flavors).  You can also order shrimp, catfish, crab legs, and hot wings by the pound with these seasonings.  You also order sides (we ordered corn and smoked sausage) which they put all together inside a plastic bag and steam.  This place is not fancy and not the kind  of place you go for a first date.  Unless you want to see how well your date can suck.  On a crawfish head, that is.  Actually, may make for an interesting first date.  Ahhh…takes me back to college when some guy took me out on a first date to a rib joint.  I was more interested in gnawing and tearing every last bit of meat and connective tissue off each luscious piece of baby back rib on my plate than in my date.  There was no second date.

Our spread:

Oysters and crawfish with Corona

Oysters and crawfish with Corona

The oysters were pretty good.  My tastebuds have been spoiled on Hama Hama’s and Malpeques, so these weren’t mind blowing for me.  We quickly dove into the whole sha-bang seasoned crawfish.  You hold the abdomen (what people generally refer to as the tail of the shrimp or crawfish, is actually the abdomen), then gently and carefully twist the head off.  Then the most crucial part of the process- you suck on the head to get all the good parts out- the ‘tamale’, the guts, the liver, the innards, the organs.  Yes, this is truly the best part of all crustaceans, don’t you think?  Or is it just me?  I could care less about the meat.  And you suck and you suck until you have extracted every little last tasty particle of innards, and the head exoskeleton is collapsing inward.  Then you peel the abdomen, eat the white meat, chase it with some beer, and repeat the process.

The crawfish were delightful, and it was actually really fun to get my hands dirty.  There’s something carnal and sexy about eating with your hands and slurping away. And feeding each other with crawfish juice dripping down your fingers and mouth.  Mmmmmmm……check please!

Crawfish aftermath

Crawfish aftermath

The whole process was fun, and the crawfish were good, but honestly, after my 10th one, I started having heartburn.  Too much heavy seasoning.  I was starting to feel so ill that I began losing suction.  But we still managed to finish everything, and it called for a group hug:

Group hug

Group hug

So many good crawfish, but the finalists for Best in Show are….

Take a bow

Take a bow

This is a good place to go with a bunch of friends, so you can sample a little bit of everything without getting too much heartburn.  A couple of doors down they have a Boiling Crab take out restaurant for those who want to eat at home.  I think I’m good with crawfish for a while.  It was good, but for crustaceans I prefer Japanese sweet shrimp sashimi or soft shell crab tempura.

http://theboilingcrab.com/

Random trivia:  Did you know that the longest word with the 5 vowels in reverse alphabetical order is PUNCTOSCHMIDTELLA, which is a crustacean? 

Tet Festival

Today I went down to Little Saigon to check out Tet, the Vietnamese New Year festival.  Little Saigon has the largest Vietnamese community outside of Vietnam, so you can imagine how crowded it was. There were a lot of vendors, food stalls, game booths, and random karaoke stands.  A lot of women were dressed up in cute Chinese dresses and beautiful Vietnamese aodai dresses.

Tet girls

Tet girls

I was really excited to try different types of foods at the food stalls, but to my disappointment a lot of them had the same stuff with very little variety.  I ended up settling for some cha gio (deep fried spring rolls), goi cuon (fresh spring rolls wrapped in rice paper), and pho bo (beef rice noodle soup).  When in doubt, stick to the basics.

Beef Pho

Beef Pho

The festival grounds were filled with the pungent and distinct smell of squid:

Dried squid

Dried squid

The dried squid is quickly roasted, then torn up into little pieces and served with hot sauce and pickled vegetables.  We have something similar to this in Japanese cuisine, and it’s usually savored with a glass of cold beer.

I really enjoyed the tall cup of freshly squeezed sugar cane and kumquat juice:

sugar cane juice with kumquat

sugar cane juice with kumquat

The sugar cane is put through the machine several times to extract every last drop of juice.  I remember having freshly squeezed sugar cane juice in Cuba, but they had to manually crank a large 3 foot high machine to do it- it was hard labor.

I was amazed at how large this festival was.  There were so many game booths and large amusement park rides; I was really impressed!  I regressed for a little while and enjoyed playing games that I hadn’t played in a long time.  I won a red crawfish stuffed animal…which reminds me, I just had crawfish in Little Saigon last week, so I’ll post that on my next blog entry.  I also rode the ferris wheel- it’s been ages since I’ve done that!  I felt like a little kid again.

We watched a bunch of live performances by local Vietnamese-American artists and high school and college groups.

The most interesting part of the evening came after the festival though.  My friends and I went to a restaurant called Luc Dinh Ky on Bolsa Avenue.  They serve free sweetened chrysanthemum tea and specialize in Chinese herbal soups.  We ordered 2 types of soup, one with black chicken and the other with goat testicles.

Mixed herb chicken soup

Mixed herb chicken soup

This was like the Korean chicken soup, sam gae tang, with all of the same Chinese herbs (chinese dates, goji berries, chestnut, jinseng).  The chicken meat was so tender and flavorful, and it just fell right off the bones.  The chicken used here is black chicken, with white feathers but black skin, meat and bones.  It’s supposed to have more anti-oxidants than regular chicken, and is highly prized for its nutritional value.  Here’s what it looks like:

Black chicken

Black chicken

If you think that looks unusual, then look at what I had for dinner tonight:

Goat testicle soup

Goat testicle soup

This has the same type of Chinese herbs as the black chicken soup, except the main attraction are the chunks of goat testicle.  They are very tender, soft, a bit spongy; like biting into a spongier version of very firm tofu.  But they definitely have a slightly strange aftertaste- or maybe it’s just psychological.  I was okay with the testicles at first, but I became more and more apprehensive when I started identifying attached structures by their medical names.

My favorite dish of the night was Bo Luc Lac, which means ‘shaking beef’.  It was super tender ( I didn’t now stir fried beef could be this tender!!) and went really well with the stir fried rice.

Bo Luc Lac

Bo Luc Lac

‘Bo’ means beef, and ‘luc lac’ refers to the way that you have to ‘shake’ the skillet back and forth to cook the beef.

We also had Com Tay Cam, which is white rice in a clay hot pot served with, in our case, salmon.

Com Tay Cam with salmon

Com Tay Cam with salmon

I love eating the crispy browned rice in these clay hot pots.  Such a wonderful crunchy texture, not to mention the deep smokey taste.

What a full day, filled with new experiences and new foods.  I look forward to celebrating next year’s Tet!

Random trivia:  Did you know that around the world, more people drink goat milk than cow milk?