District 4 is home to some outstanding local eateries, and this restaurant specialising in crab curry is no exception. By Brett Davis.
One of the truly great things about eating out in Vietnam is that many of the local restaurants specialise in particular dishes. They are the pride of the establishment and you can bet that pretty much every time they will be fantastic.
Quan Cari Cua is just this kind of place. The name, which literally means ‘crab curry restaurant’, kind of gives this away. Located in District 4, it is only a short stroll away from downtown District 1. The Gustave Eiffel-designed bridge straddling the canal between the two districts runs directly into Nguyen Truong To Street.
It is not hard to spot the place as you amble up the relatively quiet street, with Quan Cari Cua occupying four shopfront seating areas on both sides of the street, such is its popularity with the locals.
While there is certainly a house speciality, there is a host of other seafood on offer including many types of shellfish. And this is indeed where we start, plumping for the scallops (VND 50,000) which are grilled and then topped with shallots and crushed peanuts.
Next up was some fried cuttlefish (VND 80,000) which seemed to be made very much to local tastes, both in flavour and texture. To my mind, at least, cuttlefish has always seemed like chewier squid, while the sauce they were served in tasted like it was made with the liberal addition of palm sugar given its browned butter colour and intense sweetness.
The last dish before the main event was grilled oysters with cheese (VND 80,000). I love oysters and I love cheese, but I’m not normally a fan of this dish at local places because the cheese often used is of the processed slice, plastic wrapped variety. Here, however, two types of actual cheese are used and the result is predictably delicious.
But the star of the show is of course the crab curry (market price), which arrives heaped on a platter and swimming in yellow curry broth. Served alongside for mopping up that amazing curry is a pile of fresh, crusty banh mi.
You need to be prepared to get messy as the crab is cooked in the shell in the curry sauce. However, as the shell imparts much of the flavor when cooking crabs, it really gives another dimension to the typical mild, yellow Vietnamese curry.
Quan Cari Cua is a classic example of what restaurants like this in Vietnam do really well, namely delivering an outstanding signature dish. In this case, one so good they named the place after it.