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Phu Quoc, Vietnam's biggest island in the far south, is not just pretty beaches surrounded by crystal clear water. Another often omitted treasure of this island is the food. Combine the signature tastiness of Viet food with freshness no one could rival and you would soon be adding these Phu Quoc dishes to your bucket list.
Raw herring salad
‘Goi ca trich’
Anyone stepping onto this island just can't miss out on this dish and leave Phu Quoc with regret. Its availability on the island rivals that of ‘tra da’ in Hanoi if you’re familiar with the drink, or Starbucks in New York, if you’re not. Drop by a random restaurant, a portion of raw herring salad won’t cost you more than VND150,000 ($7), and can be shared among two or three eaters. You get freshest fish straight from the fisherman, roasted peanut because it goes well with almost anything fresh, herbs and a dipping sauce made with the best fish sauce the world has ever tasted.
Thick-strip noodle with mackerel
‘Banh canh ca thu’
It's the island's breakfast dish and the sister of the Oxford-dictionary filler pho. The noodle part is the thicker version of rice noodle ‘bun’ found inland, just less sour. The broth is from pig bones while the protein part is the local delicacy: mackerel. At $1.5 to $2, the dish is also everywhere.
Consisting green papaya, the familiar volume and crunch adder to many Vietnamese salads, ‘bun ken’ is a rice noodle-based seafood soup intrinsic to the island of Phu Quoc. Fish in ‘bun ken’ is minced and seasoned with lemongrass and coconut milk. Not as widespread as the above, the dish is found only at two places on the island, making the search for it a journey wherein joy lies much in the finding. One is at Dinh Cau night market, the other is Ut Luom's, a street stall that known by all the locals.
Grilled shellfish muscles
‘Coi bien mai nuong’
‘Bien mai’ is a big and triangular shellfish. Its flesh is the protein provider to many dishes, but the most prefered dish is a grilled one made of the whistle-shaped muscle. For your information, 'coi' means whistle in Vietnamese.
Those who care for a leisurely experience can order ‘bien mai’ at any restaurant, while those who enjoy fruit of labor should book a coral seeing tour and catch the shellfish themselves.
Grilled sea urchins
The grilled sea urchins can be found at any seafood place in cities on the mainland, far from their natural habitat. The ones in Phu Quoc, are simply fresher. And let's face it, freshness is often the dealbreaker.
Japanese Mochi’s sister, ‘banh kheo’ comes in various shapes and stuffings such as coconut, green beans and taro. Mildly sweet and fatty, the cake makes a perfect dessert after tons of seafood intake.
Bitter bolete is a kind of mushroom that mushrooms after rounds of rain sweep the melaleuca forests in Phu Quoc. Easy come, easy go is the expression to describe the bolete due to its short life cycle: one week, until it makes another appearance next year. The mushroom pairs harmoniously with all kinds of seafood here, be it in soup or sauteed with zucchini. Though it’s somewhat less thrilling to know that you can have the bolete all year round thanks to an advance in storing technology (the freezer), the mushroom has never ceased to amaze anyone unable to make it here during its season.
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