How To Survive In Saigon On Nothing But Eggs

In Food, Vietnam by Nick8 Comments

If you don’t love eggs then you clicked on the wrong post, my friend. Kindly see yourself out.

I’m going to give you a crash course on Saigon’s finest egg eats. Oh, and no lecturing about science-fiction like “cholesterol” or “salmonella.” This is serious business.

I’m only covering types of eggs you commonly find in standalone roadside restaurants. You’ll also see different kinds served with rice, in pho, on banh mi and in all sorts of other food—plus uncooked varieties like goose and ostrich in markets—but I skipped those for now, or else we’d be here all day.

Hot Ga Nuong

Grilled chicken eggs.

I struggled for about a week trying to figure out what these are. Nobody seemed to know, or they couldn’t explain it well, or it was a closely guarded secret of the hột gà nướng cartel. They’re grilled, that much was certain. But how? And what the hell is in them?

Eventually I traced its origin to Thailand, and learned that hot ga nuong are made by piercing the egg shell and draining the white and yolk. The contents are mixed together with salt, pepper and…well, I’m still not sure what else.

A secret blend of 37 herbs and spices, maybe.

Then this new witch’s brew is poured back into the shell, and the shell is plopped onto a charcoal grill (or directly into the coals).

It’s really pointless to tell you where to find hot ga nuong—or most types of egg, for that matter—because they’re so damn common in Vietnam. As far as I know, there’s no killer hot ga nuong stand in the city that takes reservations months in advance. It’s all the same.

That being said, eggs are mostly nocturnal creatures.

Little two-wheeled carts selling grilled eggs pop up on Saigon’s streets around 4 or 5 pm and stay open until late, sometimes past midnight.

These carts are almost always a three-ring circus selling stir-fried corn and grilled cakes on the side, but your experience may vary. Some offer whole grilled sweet potatoes.

Hot ga nuong is eaten by rolling the egg in your hand to gently remove the shell, then dipped into a mixture of seasoned salt, kumquat juice and chilies. These eggs are also served with a fistful of Vietnamese coriander (rau ram). It’s not just a garnish—the herb contrasts nicely with the unique flavor of the eggs.

Prices run from about 5,000 to 7,000 VND.

Trung Bach Thao

I promise they're tasty.

NOT toxic waste

If you cracked open an egg and it came out looking like creamy motor oil mixed with fossilized tree sap (amber, if you grew up on Jurassic Park)…would you eat it?

What if I promise you it tastes delicious?

Of course you would. Century eggs (trứng bách thảo) look like they’re summoned from the depths of Hell, but their creation is actually a lot more sinister.

You can read their page on Wikipedia if you’re really interested, but the satanic ritual involves coating the egg in clay, ash, quicklime, salt, and occasionally the souls of the unborn for as long as several months while they “mature.”

Or, modern century egg-makers who hate history and theatrics can just use sodium carbonate and calcium hydroxide. Boooorrrriinnnngggg.

Whether your eggs were created in a lab or your uncle’s crawlspace doesn’t matter. Century eggs are usually served as a condiment with rice congee (at night, of course) but feel free to order some without the porridge. I do.

Rice porridge with a dark side.

Rice porridge with a dark, terrible secret.

They come with a small dish of pickled vegetables and chilies, and they’re served cool. I realize eating cold, pitch-black eggs covered in hot peppers isn’t everyone’s cup of rice liquor, but you’re really missing out if you don’t try one.

Prices seem to be about 12,000 to 15,000 VND for one egg.

Trung Cut

Quail eggs, AKA colorful edible pebbles.

Trứng cút pop up in all sorts of dishes, from steamed dumplings to crab soup—but you can buy these tiny fellas boiled in the shell at night with all the other usual suspects.

You’ll find quail eggs sometimes with hot ga nuong, but other sellers stick to the little guys.

The cost for one egg is roughly 1,000 VND, but they’re typically sold ten at a time or in bags. Forget nachos—there’s no better bar food than a pound of boiled quail eggs to go with your warm beer.

Trung Vit Dua

At first I thought trứng vịt dữa involved duck eggs and coconuts, but that’s only because I have a 3rd-grade reading level.

Really what I ordered were shaken duck eggs. No, ducks aren’t terrible parents. The eggs are manhandled by people while still in the shell, then boiled. You eat them like any other boiled egg, but the yolk and white are already mixed together.

Sometimes sold alone, but you’ll usually find them at restaurants that sell hot vit lon (keep reading).

Not terribly exciting, but still satisfying. 5,000 t0 7,000 VND apiece.

Trung Muoi

Trung Muoi

Trứng muối are salted eggs, usually from ducks or chickens. They’re soaked in brine until the white is impossibly salty and the yolk is unrecognizable—almost dry but intensely flavorful.

Trung muoi are sometimes used as an ingredient in other dishes—seen here in banh bao—but there’s no law preventing you from eating them alone.

Hot Vit Lon and Cut Lon

Part duck, part egg.

Oh boy…we saved the best for last. Seriously, there’s no contest. I’m almost embarrassed to include these gods with the mere mortals above.

We love eggs. Of course, that’s why I’m writing and you’re still reading and drooling.

But we also love birds. Right? We’re not going to wax philosophical with the old “chicken and the egg” dilemma. Nobody cares. We want to eat birds, and we want to eat their eggs. Still with me?

Good.

Then let’s eat both at the same time.

Behold the majestic hột vịt lộn and his little brother, cút lộn.

These horror movie rejects are what happens when you let duck and quail eggs incubate for a little while…but not TOO long…and then cook ’em.

The end result is all the meatiness of a baby bird combined with the rich, delicious flavor of an egg yolk. It’s really the snack the smiles back…with soulless, blank eyes. And a beak. And legs.

Hot vit lon is amazing. About 200 calories, roughly 16 grams of protein and almost no carbs…what’s not to love? Hot vit lon is impossible to miss at night, but I’m going to break my own rule here…I have a “regular” hot vit lon place.

It’s in a construction site in an alley within in alley off D2 Street in Binh Thanh District, and I’ve consistently had better eggs/ducklings here than anywhere else. And it gets packed at night.

That said, just steer clear of a hot vit lon joint if they don’t have several customers. Same as anywhere else.

Of course, if you’re not hungry enough to eat a whole duck egg, you can order ten of the quail variety. If that math doesn’t make sense then stop counting and start eating.

Ordering and eating hot vit lon is an art. You’ll receive a basket of eggs, a little spoon and a tiny cup. Place the egg in the cup with the broad end facing up—try not to burn your hands, these bastards are hot. Mix the seasoned salt, chilies and kumquats/calamansi together in the small dish (same as hot ga nuong).

Start smacking the top of the egg with the convex surface of the spoon…the back…the part you DON’T eat with…to crack the shell. Carefully pick away the broken bits until you have a hole big enough to eat from.

Pierce the membrane with your spoon.

Drizzle some of your kumquat elixir into the egg. Pick the hot vit lon up using the cup. Breathe. Now, knock back that delicious concoction—egg juice, kumquat, salt, chilies—like it’s your twelfth shot of vodka (meaning you should cringe and shake your head because you’re probably a little disappointed with yourself).

Bottoms up.

Bottoms up.

Simple! Oh, you’ll have another basket of Vietnamese coriander sitting around trying to make you feel guilty. I mentioned before that it sort of balances out the taste of egg, but people tell me it has a much more important purpose. Hot vit lon is supposed to be an aphrodisiac, and rau ram is meant to keep you from going buck wild, so to speak.

But that’s not living. That’s like sipping Nyquil at a New Year’s Eve party. Early to bed, early to rise makes a man miss out on half-grown baby ducks.

But as much as I have a crush on hot vit lon, there’s actually an egg dish I like even better. It can only be described as “baby birds taking a fruit bath.”

Egg evolution.

Egg evolution.

Hot vit/cut lon me. Don’t make eye contact.

Here’s how it works. We take the good bits out of that useless egg shell. Fry it a little bit. Toss in some peanuts, fried onions and some sweet, tangy tamarind sauce. Serve. Cry, because you’ve now been to the top of the mountain.

The whole gang is here.

The whole gang is here.

Normal hot vit lon usually costs from 6,000 to 8,000 VND. Ten hot cut lon runs 10,000. Get the deluxe tamarind edition and expect to shell out 7,000 to 9,000 and 12,000, respectfully.

An Embarrassment Of Eggs

You can’t avoid eggs in Vietnam. They’re cheap. They’re delicious. And they’re coming for you.

What’s your favorite way to eat eggs? Is there a chance in hell you’d try century eggs or hot vit lon? I’m curious what you guys think!

Comments

  1. Liz DeLuca Almond

    How’s your stomach? If you get the runs, Congee is very good for that. We give it to Bella.

    Not sure I’d have the nerve to try most of those egg dishes, but thanks for sharing – veeeeery interesting!

    1. Author
      Nick

      Thanks, everyone here eats congee when they have the shits. Then you have crazies on the opposite end of the spectrum who say eating CHILIES kills the bacteria in the food and keeps you from getting sick. Pass.

  2. Beth q

    Not sure I can eat anything with soulless eyes! Do you see scrambled eggs there?

    1. Author
      Nick

      Yup, trung op la. You can order them with broken rice and banh mi, and they’re one of the main ingredients in bot chien, which is really good drunk food.

  3. Caitlin

    I didn’t eat eggs that weren’t deviled for the longest time up until about a year ago. My boyfriend made me an omelet with so many toppings it hardly qualified as an egg dish. I evolved to eating an over easy egg every morning now.
    I would totally give all of these a try, I love the flavor of the yolk. And a developing bird doesn’t really bother me all that much so that’s a plus. I wonder if I could recreate any of these, have you tried cooking eggs like any of these dishes for yourself?

    1. Author
      Nick

      Well I’m incredibly lazy, so no I haven’t cooked any of these myself. In fact, I’ve eaten out for every single meal since last August.

      Why didn’t you really eat eggs before?

      You can order hot vit lon online (it also goes by the Filipino name “balut”), and a few people told me you can buy them at Lotte or other Asian markets around DC. They’re just boiled at that point.

      Here’s a recipe I found for the duck eggs with tamarind sauce:
      http://www.vietnamfamousdestinations.com/2014/07/fried-balut-with-tamarind-sauce-recipe.html

      Here’s one for brined eggs:
      http://en.christinesrecipes.com/2010/09/homemade-salted-eggs.html

      And century eggs:
      http://www.instructables.com/id/century-eggs/

      I’ve got a pair of unfertilized crocodile eggs hanging up on my wall right now like a trophy. Unfortunately I will have to cook them myself.

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