Cheap beers and bus tours are not the only treats found along Bui Vien.
Lined alongside numerous other restaurants and bars in District 1’s famous backpacker area is an oyster place that’s delighting curious travelers on a budget and impressing the most seasoned expats with its eclectic menu. Five Oysters (234 Bui Vien, D1) immediately strikes me as a great spot for people watching. There’s a pleasure to be taken from observing the antics of drunks and vendors while tucking into good food on a Friday evening.
We were led upstairs to an outdoor table pleasantly placed next to a small tree and gratefully took our seats overlooking the street. Staff promptly pulled out the slide roof when a downpour immediately threatened to spoil the seating arrangements. We relaxed and took a look around. There was the usual busy crowd of foreigners, with many of the diners trying the eponymous food of the restaurant, possibly hoping to capture some of its aphrodisiac qualities too.
Five Oysters boasts an interesting menu packed full of exotic as well as more familiar options that aim to please most tastes. Diners can delve into frog porridge, grilled octopus with chili oil and traditional Vietnamese hits like pho along with Western standards such as steak and chips for those missing home comfort food.
We embraced four raw oysters (VND10,000 per piece) and four grilled oysters (VND30,000 a piece) with spring onion, garlic and a sprinkling of peanuts. A burst of ocean accompanied the first slurp of raw oyster, breaking the illusion that we were far away from the sea while stuck in belching muggy traffic on the way to the restaurant. All of the oysters are sourced about 90km away at Vung Tau beach, ensuring their freshness. They were as you’d expect: juicy and served on ice. The raw oysters came with wasabi which I spread generously over one. Sucking up that combination is likely to whack the hangover out of any backpacker and the cocktails’ menu, as I discovered, harbored an even more potent surprise. The grilled oysters worked well for a less intense although still very enjoyable flavor.
As a simple Briton, the next dish, snail pie (VND70,000) was considered exotic. Cut into six pieces and served with a simple garnish of tomatoes and cucumber, the pie had a certain earthiness to it that was balanced with the chili sauce dip. The ingredients of mushrooms, eggs, pork and snails were surrounded by a crispy shell of rice paper. The pork brought a meaty texture to the pie and the snail were chewy morsels similar to mussels. Manager Truong Loc says the snails are one of the reasons why his place attracts so many French customers.
Loc lives with his kitchen staff, a tight- knit team, and holds daily meetings to feedback on customers’ remarks to always improve service. He has a sincere goal to please his customers, whom he considers more like guests, and often drinks with them, taking the opportunity to warn newbies of Bui Vien’s potential dangers – the scammers and thieves.
As he worked the room, making everybody feel comfortable and welcomed, Loc told us that snails stuffed with pork meat then seasoned and steamed is the most popular dish. The restaurant’s snails, crab and fish are plucked from fruit gardens, lakes and rivers of the Mekong Delta.
We also enjoyed another main of tofu, mushroom, vegetables, spring onion and carrot with noodles (VND70,000). The tofu soaked in the flavors of its neighbors, the mushrooms and onions, while the carrot offered a crisp cleanser mixed with soft noodles. The freshness of the ingredients also meant we gobbled everything down quickly. For dessert we had the light and refreshing bananas flambé (VND50,000) and a stodgy and satisfying banana cake (VND30,000).
It was time to wash down the feast. I chose the restaurant’s firebrand signature shot of vodka, fresh oyster, chili, Tabasco and a slice of lime. The drink looked like the shallows of a Vietnamese shore with remnants of oyster collected like pebbles at the bottom of the glass. I braced myself before I tilted the shot and sucked out the oyster.
Dining at Five Oysters was a great experience – quality food for backpacker prices.