Sunday, 06/11/2022 09:24

Biển Rừng restaurant's succulent seafood

LOW-KEY DELICIOUS: Biển Rừng restaurant has a spacious dining area and offers the best food of the sea and land.

by Nguyễn Mỹ Hà

Every time you travel to Cam Ranh for a holiday, the name Nha Trang rings in your head like a wind chime. The name Nha Trang is reminiscent of the wind blowing, and the beach city has always been so famous it is intrinsically linked with going on vacation. 

But if you go to Cam Ranh for a holiday, you don't even set foot on Nha Trang. The Long Beach of Cam Ranh is closer to the airport than the city. But Nha Trang's food scene is so popular it has spread all over Cam Ranh. 

Located by the beach, Biển Rừng has a wonderful array of seafood, from fresh mackerel to lobsters. It also has all molluscs, such as clams, razor clams, oysters, mussels and more.

In Cam Ranh, after two years of COVID, we were glad to have found Biển Rừng still in operation, as we could not see our favourite duck-themed street stall and the sweet fruit soup (chè trái cây) seller in the area. 

SHELLING OUT: Fresh oysters served with lime juice, mustard greens and aromatic herbs dipped in wasabi sauce. VNS Photos Mỹ Hà

We had strips of green mango dipped in spicy ground salt. Vietnamese do not like having sweet ripe fruit before meals, as the sweet flavour closes your palate, making you feel full. On the contrary, a sour green fruit dipped in spicy salt leaves you breathing through your teeth from the dried chilli powder, making you want more food to quench the burning spice on your palate. 

We then had the steamed fingernail clam shells. These shells were big and plump and tasted delicious, the best I have tried. Then we had the shells roasted in pork fat and green onions. It seems anything tastes delicious when topped with this combination: sauteed green onion in pork fat, the Vietnamese way, or garlic butter sauce, the western way. 

Then came the main dish, oyster sashimi; they like to call it milky oysters, as the molluscs are fatty with dark white fluid that look like whole cream milk. For me, oysters taste best as sashimi. Other options, like the greasy sauteed onion or garlic butter, do not feel quite right. 

OCEAN FRESH: Plump fingernail (or jackknife clam) shells taste delicious when steamed with lemongrass and dipped into seafood sauce including condensed milk.

My dining companion loves sea urchins, so she ordered two, fresh to be consumed raw. Two others liked the fresh sea shrimps, not farmed, so we had a kilo of them roasted on charcoal. It's a jumbo shrimp, and you only get 20 to a kilo. What a treat!

Besides its famous lobster farms scattered on many islands off the Cam Ranh Bay, the signature dish of this region is sea crab in tamarind sauce. The type of crab you choose depends on the cycle of the moon. When the moon is like a crescent, male crabs taste better, and when the moon is full, female crabs with thick reddish roe top the list.  Or maybe it is the other way around? Make sure you consult your waiter before choosing which crab you want to sit on a beautiful tamarind bed for dinner.

It is ironic that during the first COVID waves, you would see many ads calling on people to rescue lobsters as foreign importers had to stop taking in lobsters as they had to be quarantined.

It was hard on the farms and producers, but the consumers at large got their chance to have lobsters, small in size, but they tasted great anyway. These days, travel bans have been lifted, and we can travel but not have lobsters, as they are finding their way overseas again. 

An extravagant seafood party is within reach with a larger group of 6-10. Then you can try the expensive garruppa or lobster sashimi that you would not be able to finish in a group of two. A larger dining group makes you feel more at ease, as when you dine as a pair you feel responsible for your companion's excellent or not-so-good mood.

The downside of a larger group is you have a larger pool of desires to be met. In our case, it was our child who did not like seafood at all. So she asked for the rice and sour fish soup to be served early so she could have her seafood dinner completed after only two bowls of rice. So, when you're on holiday expecting to tighten the family bonds, there's always something that goes against the will of the rest of the group... Ahh, c'est la vie. VNS

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