The Crab Shack offers Saigonese a taste of Cajun cooking in the city.
When entering The Crab Shack (11B Le Quy Don, D3), now six months old, guests are greeted by tanks of live shellfish, exposed brick walls, and simple, square wooden tables covered in butcher’s paper. With the smell of Cajun spices wafting from the kitchen, one yearns for jazz music playing in the background.
Frankie, the restaurant’s manager, explains the inspiration for this decidedly American South eatery popping up in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City. “The owners have visited Louisiana several times and fell in love with crawfish and wanted to bring that back to Vietnam,” he tells us. Indeed, one can see they went to lengths to try and recreate the atmosphere and menu one might stumble into in New Orleans.
We opted to start with some fried calamari (VND129,000) which isn’t necessarily Cajun, but we were in the mood for some. Served with french fries and a side of tartar sauce instead of marinara, they were done properly.
Crawfish (VND699,000) are one of the signature items on the menu and can be ordered in a variety of sauces and flavors. We opted to stick with the traditional Cajun spices and asked to have them with as much kick as they could muster. It was a treat to have them after being away from the US for so long. They have adapted them to the local palate, so the sauce is a bit sweeter than the Louisiana version those who are familiar with the cuisine would expect, and they come in a large bag tossed with garlic and in an oily sauce. The addition of corn on the cob (VND50,000 for five pieces) is a great touch, but if you prefer the traditional style let your server know so they can accommodate you. They currently use frozen crawfish, but are looking at experimenting with fresh options as well to see how customers will respond. Of course fresh ones are certain to raise the price, but they’re equally as certain to increase the enjoyment. The moules mariniere (VND350,000) were spot on for flavor. Using fresh New Zealand mussels, their chef did a great job of recreating the Southern American taste.
Crawfish with corn Moules mariniere
But of course, this restaurant is called The Crab Shack, so their crabs are the reason to visit. We had local mud crabs (market price). Two to an order, we were served one deep fried in Hong Kong garlic sauce and the other sautéed in black pepper sauce. The Hong Kong style was nice, even fun, and certainly geared towards Asian tastebuds. The black pepper version, while perhaps not strictly Cajun, pops in your mouth and encouraged us to find a new home for the garlic bread. It’s something spice lovers will enjoy.
The Crab Shack is toeing the line between traditional Cajun and local tastes. Cajun cooking is a spicy treat and the items found on the menu are as much fun to indulge in as they are messy, both of which rank high for locals and expats alike.
Images provide by The Crab Shack