Dried Squid With a Side of Chicken Feet
By Tristan Ngo
I stumbled on this eatery near The Elbow Room the other day. Dimly lit fluorescent lights, rows of small metal tables, and a worn-out sign hanging out front are the restaurant’s only amenities. The place was full of local diners, and the scene beckoned me inside. Chao Muc 10 at 10 Pho Duc Chinh near Nguyen Cong Tru Street is actually a well-known and popular place. As food prices in Vietnam continue to rise, this type of inexpensive restaurant is becoming increasingly harder to find in District 1. But Chao Muc 10 is still going strong.
Chao muc (squid porridge) and banh canh are the specialties here. Banh canh is a Vietnamese-style noodle thickened with tapioca or a combination of rice and tapioca flour. There are many versions, but this simpler one is served in a rich pork broth with shallots, salt, pepper, sugar and fish sauce.
The porridge here is made with dried squid. The salty dried squid enhances the flavour and becomes tender after cooking for hours in the porridge pot. If you’ve ever tried the chewy dried squid sold on the streets you’ll understand what this dish is like. The bowl of porridge comes with congealed blood, bean sprouts, and green onions. Make sure to add a century egg (Chinese-influenced preserved egg) to your bowl, some fresh chopped chilli and a squeeze of lime. The porridge is served with a bowl of gio chao quay (a breadstick also known as youtiao, a type of Chinese doughnut or cruller) cut up in bite-size pieces.
Diners here also tend to gnaw away at pork knuckles and chicken feet, ordering them on the side. So if you’re feeling experimental then do what the locals do. You can also order chicken wings, drumsticks or century eggs on the side. This is about as Vietnamese as you’re gonna get. Chuc ngon mieng!