One of the most popular seafood items in Vietnam, squid is found on nearly every good restaurant menu in some form. Dishes are varied, and it is no surprise the squid fishery is one of the biggest in the country. There are twenty five species found in Vietnamese waters with the largest catch concentrated in the south, including Nha Trang. A total of about 24,000 tonnes is taken each year and because of their short lifespan and rapid breeding, the fishery is sustainable. They are captured at night with the aid of strong lights to which they are attracted. Look out over the bay after sunset and at times it is lit up like a Christmas tree with literally hundreds of squid boats at work. Try it stir fried with fish sauce, steamed with ginger, cold with a Vietnamese or Thai salad, or as part of a seafood hotpot. It is healthy, tasty, affordable and very adaptable.
Without doubt one of the world’s favorite seafood items, shrimps are abundant in Nha Trang’s markets and on the menu of just about every restaurant in town. They are obtained from two main sources, wild, caught by trawlers and farmed. The former are more expensive and harder to come by, and farmed shrimps are the backbone of the supply chain. It is worth taking a trip out of Nha Trang and wherever you go near the coast, shrimp farms abound. They are very productive and provide an excellent source of export income to the nation as a whole. Farms are found throughout Vietnam, producing a number of species for local and overseas markets. The export market has seen quality improve greatly over recent years.
They can be cooked in a variety of fashions; BBQ’d, steamed, in hotpots or as a salad and can be prepared shell-on or peeled. There is no end to their uses in the hands of an inventive and creative chef. Vietnamese, Thai, Italian, Chinese, and Indian cuisines all rely on shrimp for a huge range of dishes, so if you are in the mood for excellent seafood, Nha Trang’s shrimp will fit the bill.
LOBSTER (Tôm Hùm)
Lobster, in its many forms, is regarded worldwide as one of the great luxury foods. It has a beautiful sweet and rich yet delicate flavour with the advantage of large chunks of meat in the tail. Seafood heaven! The process of lobster production in Vietnam is a fascinating one. Tropical lobster will not enter a pot like their cooler water cousins so aquaculture is employed to supply the demand. Harvest season is between May and November and once captured they are transferred to sea cages and grown out to the desired size over an 18-24 month period. The industry is a valuable one, generating about USD$100 million per year just in the fishing sector, not including restaurants etc. Diners can walk around town at night and see many excellent seafood restaurants with live tanks displaying local lobster and other delights. Drop in, select your lobster, and decide on the spot how it is to be prepared. It doesn’t get any better or fresher than that! Be cautious, live lobsters are far better than the frozen ones. Make sure you get what you order as there is a huge difference in quality and price.
If you get the chance to visit a local market you are going to see crabs galore! The two main varieties are the Blue Swimmer and Mud (Mangrove) crabs. Both support large fishing fleets and are extremely popular with locals and visitors alike. There is an increasing aquaculture industry developing around these two species as research efforts start to show results.
A vast array of dishes are based on crab. Simply boiled and the diner can break them up and pick the meat in the time honored fashion. Try it in crab and asparagus soup, cheap and super-tasty, or in spicy Vietnamese salads and the ever popular salt-steamed crab. Most good restaurants will have live crab on display and you can be guaranteed the freshest of the fresh. Or go to the markets and buy your own and have them prepared in your favourite fashion.
SHELLS/COCKLES/SEA SNAILS (Nghêu, Sò)
Vietnamese people have had a long love affair with shellfish such as cockles, sea snails and other similar species. They are expert in their preparation and cooking and many in the west may have never had the chance to try them. So here is your opportunity! Being so popular locally, there is both a wild fishery and increasing aquaculture effort to meet the demand. A visit to the market will see a huge variety of shellfish on offer and the choice is almost endless. Many restaurants will have them available live, including oysters, so it is easy to simply choose your shellfish and be assured of both freshness and quality. A favourite is cockles steamed with lemongrass, chilli and ginger. It is a delight to eat and the aroma is to die for! Simply BBQ’ing shells is another great option, picking the meat and dipping it in a chilli based sauce. This is a lovely, between meals snack, best enjoyed with an ice cold beer and a view of the ocean or river. Magic!
COBIA/BLACK KINGFISH (Cá Bớp)
The cobia or black kingfish is renowned as one of the best food fish in tropical waters. Growing to a maximum weight of about 75kg in the wild, it is also a noted sport fish and widely distributed in both northern and southern hemispheres. Due to its extremely fast growth rate and with advancements in breeding technology, it is an excellent candidate for aquaculture and is extensively raised in Vietnam, making it readily available. This is great for the fish loving visitor as cobia is a superb table fish, filleted or in cutlet form. Again, a good suggestion is a visit to the Xom Moi or Dam Market (see the map for locations) and walk around the seafood section. Here, cobia will be readily seen along with a host of other exotic seafood delights. If the hustle and bustle of market life doesn’t appeal then be content to order it at your favourite restaurant. It is an outstanding fish, firm and tasty with white flesh and once you have tried it you will realise what all the fuss is about!
Recommended Seafood Dishes
Here are some of our local seafood dishes that we think you will enjoy whilst you are in Nha Trang. Please share your experience with us by email firstname.lastname@example.org.
– Cooked in coconut water (tôm hấp trái dừa)
– Shrimp steamed with beer (tôm hấp bia)
– Crispy fried squid in breadcrumbs (mực chiên giòn)
– Steamed with coconut water (mực hấp nước dừa)
3. Cobia/Black kingfish:
– Cobia grilled with green chilli and salt – less hot
(cá bớp nướng muối ớt xanh, ít cay)
– Cobia in sour hot pot (cá bớp nấu lẩu chua)
– Grilled with cheese and garlic (tôm hùm nướng bơ tỏi)
– Sashimi lobster (tôm hùm ăn kiểu sashimi)
– Grilled with green onion (hàu nướng mỡ hành)
– Baked oyster (hàu đúc lò)
– Steamed with lemon grass and ginger (nghêu hấp sả gừng)
– Big scallop grilled with green onion (cồi mai nướng mỡ hành)
– Steamed geoduck (tu hài hấp)
– Fried noodle with crab meat (miến xào cua)
– Steamed crab (ghẹ luộc)