Beachside Vung Tau
(which means Bay of Boats in Vietnamese) sits on a peninsular approximately 120km south of Ho Chi Minh City. This proximity to the noise and pollution of Saigon mean it’s within easy reach for weekenders or even a daytrip, yet few western tourists make it. Despite being skipped by most foreigners, the Bay of Boats is a hit with domestic tourists, with the hotels often being full at the weekends and especially over public holidays. If you want to dodge the crowds, mid-week is when the town is at its sleepy best. Also known by its French name Cap St Jacques, Vung Tau began as a fishing village but metamorphosed during the Vietnam War when it was used for R&R by US servicemen on leave. Once the war finished, the hustle and bustle faded considerably and it was from here that the first of what became known as the boat people, left Vietnam’s shores. Today, the quaint fishing village is long gone, but Vung Tau remains a worthwhile destination for those in Saigon with a few days up their sleeve.Vung Tau’s peninsula is encircled by a long winding road from the north east of the peninsula along Back Beach past a string of three-star hotels and semi-budget guesthouses. This open seafront is packed with small seafood vendors and larger restaurants, as well as daytime leisure centers offering the use of a swimming pool. The road continues around the southern tip passing by the infamous Jesus statue, and many kilometers of ocean view, before arriving in the city centre, which is bordered, by a quaint harbor.
I cannot think of a better place than eating seafood at one of the very local, plastic chairs studded, restaurants on the beach of Vung Tau, watching the fishing boats returning from their catch. Indeed there are not many western tourists to be found here, it is truly a local affair eating amongst noisy Vietnamese families and drunken horde of youngsters downing beers after beers.
Those razor clamps, as scary they may look, are by far the best I have eaten in a long time. Lots of garlic and scallion, perhaps also a healthy dose of “Happy Powder” called MSG! But they are delicious!
Interestingly the locals call these clamps “Scallop” but they are really “wunder” clamps. So buttery and fresh, with a little soy and lots of garlic and cilantro; one can hardly stop (only once the plate is empty).
I think I had myself a whole plate of those! Will come back here just because of those suckers!
Now, there is no secret that I don’t really like the Vietnamese Rice and the way they cook it. Once eaten Thai Rice (Hom Mali) or Japanese Rice, it is hard to appreciate Vietnamese Rice. Locals of course disagree since they grew up with Vietnamese Rice; how would they know differently. Vietnamese Rice is rather sticky and most of the time overcooked; that how they like it over here. However it is a different ballgame altogether when it comes to fried rice, in particular, Garlic Fried Rice. Garlic here in Vietnam is very small and sweet. In general, Vietnamese food here in the south tends to be on the sweet side, therefore lots of garlic in the fried rice is balanced off with light soy sauce and just the way I like it.
I have heard a lot about those Mantis Shrimp but never eaten any of it until now. Wow, they are completely different, sweeter than lobster and smooth in texture.
Mantis shrimps are lightening-fast predators with the most complex eyes in the animal kingdom. Their powerful limbs spear or club their prey using one of the fastest responses known to man. They can deliver a blow that is equivalent to the force of a bullet.
They are from 2 to 30cm (1-12in) in length, depending on the species.
Mantis shrimps typically occur in the shallow waters of tropical and subtropical seas.
Most live in excavated burrows, either building their own or moving into those built by other organisms. They also inhabit rock or coral crevices.
They feed on various fish and invertebrates and are fast, efficient predators. Mantis shrimp are either ‘spearers’, who use their forelimbs with numerous spines to capture mainly soft-bodied prey like fish and shrimps, or ‘smashers’ that possess club-like appendages to crush hard-shelled animals such as crabs, clams and snails.
The strike of one of a mantis shrimp forelimb is considered to be one of the fastest movements known in the animal kingdom. Larger animals can reach velocities of around 10 meters per second, producing a force approaching that of a 22 calibre bullet!
Mantis shrimp’s eyes are on stalks – allowing them to size up prey, predators and competition from the comfort of the burrow or crevice. Their sense of vision is acute and more complex than any other system discovered to date. They have at least eight different type of cell involved in color vision (compared to the human three), including several sensitive to ultraviolet wavelengths (to which humans are blind). In addition, they are able to sense and use minute information about the direction of light – known as its ‘polarization’.
Mantis shrimps are very colorful and use visual display to communicate to predators and other mantis shrimp. In addition to their flamboyant red, green and blue warning coloration, some species have fluorescent patches, areas that glow yellow, increasing their conspicuousness. This coloration is hidden view when the mantis shrimp is in its burrow, but is rapidly flashed when required.
Some mantis shrimp mate for life (one pair was known to stay together for over 20 years), while others are highly promiscuous. There is usually a period of courtship, during which the male signals his intentions. The couple then come together so that sperm can be transferred, and they may mate several times. Females may store sperm for some time before using it to fertilize the eggs, or lay immediately. Some species lay their eggs in their burrows, while others carry the eggs in their forelimbs, carefully turning and cleaning the eggs until they hatch.
Larval mantis shrimps are planktonic and just as fearsome as their parents. They too have strong raptorial appendages and are effective predators, often preying on other larvae.
Moving from those exotic Mantis Shrimps to steamed Grouper fish with Vermicelli was a delight; steamed with soy and wine, vermicelli and ginger, a sweet fish with lots of flesh and taste.
The word “grouper” comes from the word for the fish, most widely believed to be from the Portuguese name, Garoupa
. The origin of this name in Portuguese is believed to be from an indigenous South American language.
In Australia, the name “groper” is used instead of “grouper” for several species, such as the Queensland grouper (Epinephelus lanceolatus
). In the Philippines, it is named lapu-lapu
in Luzon, while in the Visayas and Mindanao it goes by the name pugapo
. In New Zealand, “groper” refers to a type of wreckfish, Polyprion oxygeneios
, which goes by the M?ori name h?puku
. In the Middle East, the fish is known as hammour
, and is widely eaten, especially in the Persian Gulf region.
Groupers are teleosts, typically having a stout body and a large mouth. They are not built for long-distance, fast swimming. They can be quite large, and lengths over a meter and weights up to 100 kg are not uncommon, though obviously in such a large group, species vary considerably. They swallow prey rather than biting pieces off it. They do not have many teeth on the edges of their jaws, but they have heavy crushing tooth plates inside the pharynx. They habitually eat fish, octopuses, and crustaceans. Some species prefer to ambush their prey, while other species are active predators. Reports of fatal attacks on humans by the largest species, the giant grouper (Epinephelus lanceolatus
) are unconfirmed.
Their mouths and gills form a powerful sucking system that sucks their prey in from a distance. They also use their mouths to dig into sand to form their shelters under big rocks, jetting it out through their gills. Their gill muscles are so powerful, it is nearly impossible to pull them out of a cave if they feel attacked and extend those muscles to lock themselves in.