Vo Hong Thu

On our trip around Vietnam, I was taken aback when my friend said: “Let’s go on a diet tonight!” That’s when we stopped at My Khe Beach in Danang.

It turned out that “a diet” meant eating delicious and nutritious seafood dishes made with little or even no oil. While these dishes sound simple, there’s no better way to enjoy Vietnam’s fresh seafood.

Steamed “chíp chíp” with chilies and lemongrass

Chíp chíp is a seafood dish that looks as adorable as the name suggests. Upon seeing the steaming bowl set down by our hostess I exclaimed: “Oh, it’s baby clams!” My friend burst out laughing and seconded my remark, for chíp chíp is indeed a bivalve mollusk similar to clams or cockles, only smaller. Despite its small size, with thinner shells, chíp chíp contain more and better meat. These shellfish are served many ways, including fried with cinnamon leaves, sautéed with butter and garlic, or with sate sauce, but are at their best when steamed.

Foodies love steamed chíp chíp

Chíp chíp live mainly along the shoreline of Danang, especially in the area from Rong Bridge to Thuan Phuoc Bridge. A simple trick to enhance its flavor is to add smashed lemongrass, chopped chilies, and light seasoning. Remember to cook it at low heat as the chíp chíp boils into a delicious broth. While steamed chíp chíp is often served with chili fish sauce on the side, skip the sauce for the first few bites. Scrumptious! That is the only word to describe this luscious sea-sent experience.

Freshly-caught squid retains its divine flavor

Steamed squid with ginger

The eatery we went to was neither big nor top-rated on Google when we searched for seafood restaurants on My Khe Beach. It was recommended by a local friend, and what a spot-on recommendation that was. Only when she noticed that we were savoring the last bits of chíp chíp did our hostess present a dish of steamed squid that looked fresh off the stove. Large slices of juicy white squid were masterfully shaped like flowers and looked tempting among golden shredded ginger, burning red chilies, and caramel-colored ginger fish sauce. The crunchy satisfaction of squid meat cooked to perfection and the sweet, sour and spicy sensation of the sauce were magical beyond words. We were left feeling sorry for city-dwellers who only have access to frozen seafood.

Water spinach cooked with sentinel crabs is a tasty combination

Water spinach soup with sentinel crabs

If you’ve tasted water spinach soup with sentinel crabs you’ll surely agree this is a clever combination. Blue sentinel crabs are chosen for their firm and lush meat, which is better than that of other crab species, including red crabs, dotted crabs, and flower crabs. Water spinach is carefully picked and cut into bite-sized lengths. Combined into a soup, the two ingredients take on a superb flavor that needs no condiments. Our hostess was generous enough to share her recipe. Surprisingly, the steps are not hard to follow. For sentinel crabs, first, remove the top shell and rinse with water, then discard the grey gills. The secret lies in the processing stage: use a pair of scissors to cut the main body in half and smash the claws to help absorb seasoning and for easy cracking when served. Let the crab sit in chopped shallots and seasoning for about 10 minutes. After that, fry minced dried shallots, add the crab, and stir-fry until it turns red. Cook on low heat for 10 minutes to let the crabs slightly dissolve into the broth, then add water and more seasoning to your liking. As soon as the water boils, add the water spinach and submerge it to maintain its fresh green color. The vegetable will soften more quickly than when cooked in the usual way. Enjoy this dish warm. This was one of my best discoveries during this fantastic trip.