Near the end of my first visit to Hue, Vietnam, my friend (and translator) Lan took me to meet restaurateur Vo Thi Huong and have lunch at her beachside place, Restaurant Nhu’y. Lan brought me here, she explains, because Ms. Huong offers the freshest seafood, the fastest and best cooking, the fairest price, the widest selection of vegetables, the friendliest service.
Restaurant Nhu’y is open on all sides, with some tanks for live seafood and a small, partially walled-off kitchen in the center. A handful of plastic chairs and tables, covered with Coca Cola–branded plastic tablecloths, are arranged to provide the best view of a stretch of clean white sand on the South China Sea (also known, in certain Vietnamese quarters, as the “East Sea,” owing to some ongoing geopolitical issues with China).
“I serve crab, shrimp, another kind of crab, like a Vietnamese crab, and squid, fish, snails, and clams,” Huong says, sitting with us for a few minutes before cooking our lunch. What she’s got on any given day, and where it comes from, depends on the season. “In the summer, the sea is calm, and we have a lot of variety. In the wintertime, the fish comes from the river or the lagoon.”
For lunch, she made us a plate of shrimp with garlic, her signature dish. Covered with slender scallion pieces and chunks of garlic and shallot, the shrimp were relieved of their shells but not their heads. That they were flavorful, plump and incredibly fresh-tasting was no surprise, given that they were alive fewer than ten minutes before Huong set the plate in front of us. What I was briefly surprised by is the fact that Huong had used mayonnaise to emulsify the silky, subtle chili sauce coating the shrimp, but given the terrific effect she’d achieved, I had no reason to begrudge its use. —Laurie Woolever
- 3 T vegetable, corn, or coconut oil
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 1 large shallot, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 2 bunches (12-14) scallions, roots trimmed, cut into 2-inch lengths
- 1 lb head-on shrimp, shells removed, butterflied deveined
- 3 T Tuong Ot (a smooth, seedless red chili sauce)
- 2 T Kewpie mayonnaise
- 2 T soy sauce
- 1 pinch Acccent or Ajinomoto seasoning (MSG), optional (but you know it tastes good)
- + warm jasmine rice and cold lager, for serving
Heat the oil in a wok over medium-high heat. After a minute, add the garlic, shallots, and scallions and stir-fry for 1 minute.
Add the shrimp to the pan and stir-fry for another 1 to 2 minutes, until the shrimp are no longer translucent and perhaps beginning to brown in spots.
Briskly stir in the chili sauce, mayonnaise, soy sauce, and MSG. Fold and toss to bring the sauce elements together and coat the shrimp and vegetables. Remove from heat and serve immediately, with hot rice and cold beer.