BackEat & Drink » Saigon Hẻm Gems » Hẻm Gems: In D6, Oyster Omelette, Porridge and Bột Chiên for the Soul

Hẻm Gems: In D6, Oyster Omelette, Porridge and Bột Chiên for the Soul

“He was a bold man that first ate an oyster,” satirist Jonathan Swift wrote in the 1700s. Famously fearful of the now-prized bivalves, Swift eventually grew to appreciate their briny, ocean-forward essence, going as far as writing oyster-gathering and -consuming into Gulliver’s Travels.

While there’s no way for us to figure out exactly who first took one for the team and sank their teeth into the luscious flesh of an oyster, we have strong evidence of when they were alive. A few years ago, archeologists discovered some trace remains of a shellfish feast in a cave in South Africa, dating back to some 164,000 years ago. And thus began mankind’s long-standing relationship with oysters: they exist deliciously, and we eat sumptuously.

Bowls of ingredients for a busy night of serving snacks. From left to right: oysters, seafood, xá bấu (salted daikon), and bok choy.

I remember my first oysters as vividly as I remember the dingy market where they were served. In a corner of Phùng Hưng Market in District 5 lives a street cart selling oyster omelettes prepared by a Hoa Vietnamese family — a batter of eggs and tiny little baby oysters, deep-fried in a wok, then presented on a bed of fresh lettuce. It was oily, crunchy and decadent, especially when slathered with spoonfuls of sweet, chili-rific fish sauce. The cart and its murky street corner still exist today, albeit with inflated prices and many complaints of lackluster service. I have not been back since, because I have found another oyster omelette corner to soothe my craving to my heart’s content at District 6’s Mr. Béo.

The pavement plot, home to Mr. Béo.

Coming from downtown Saigon, one needs to traverse the length of the nicer, spacious stretch of Hậu Giang Street and cross a bridge by the same name to get into the crowded neighborhood where Mr. Béo lives. At 500 Hậu Giang lies a square plot of pavement in front of nondescript houses. One might not realize the full extent of its potential if they arrive during the day, but, when the clock strikes 5pm, a small platoon of yellow-shirted staff scurries out from the alleys on both sides to turn this sidewalk into a night snack heaven. In a quarter of an hour, the employees, like magicked forest animals in a fairytale, have finished assembling sets of neon-green tables, cooking stations, and even a dedicated drink-making cart. And in just a blink of an eye, customers and app deliverymen have already appeared for takeaway orders.

Bột chiên with seafood is a specialty here.

Hàu, the Vietnamese word for oyster, is present everywhere in Mr. Béo’s online presence and reviews, so our food-sampling crusade tries just that: oyster omelette, oyster porridge, and a few orders of bột chiên and stir-fried vermicelli with an assortment of seafood to ensure our stomachs are satisfied. The order of oyster omelette arrives as a rolled-up egg wrap, golden on the outside and soft inside.

A golden pocket of hàu chiên trứng (oyster omelette).

The choice of small oysters is perfect for the dish, as with every bite, one gets a little bit of everything: tender cooked egg, rich baby oysters, some bean sprouts and onions. You can also make a small wrap using the accompanied lettuce leaves for some texture variation. The all-important but easy-to-dismiss star that makes the oyster omelette at Mr. Béo, however, is the little bowl of sweet fish sauce — just fish sauce diluted with water and sugar.

Rich, soft, sweet and salty make for a perfect bite.

Here is where I might get burned at the stake for blasphemy. The oyster omelette is not a Vietnamese invention, but a Hokkien delicacy that’s present pretty much everywhere there is a significant ethnic Chinese community, from Taiwan and Singapore to Thailand. There are restaurants in Saigon with the authentic Taiwanese version. The two pillars of the dish — fresh oysters and eggs — are always there, in addition to spring onions, flour and coriander garnish, but outside of Vietnam, the sauce is a tangy orange concoction that sings of chili and sour citrus, something I could never get in bed with. I am a Saigoneer from southern Vietnam, and I like my sauces sweet. Sue me.

Cháo hàu (oyster porridge).

Bột chiên hải sản.

The porridge section of Mr. Béo’s menu boasts several types of seafood, but two standouts are oyster and scallops. The cháo is neither too watery nor glutinous, and every spoon is peppered with oysters and scallops in magnanimous proportions. After two or three plates of greasy fried food, this healing bowl is a more-than-appropriate last number that soothes your throat and warms your belly.

Miến xào hải sản (stir-fried vermicelli with seafood).

Nui chiên trứng.

Apart from omelette and porridge, oysters and seafood are also present as toppings on dry noodles, stir-fried vermicelli and bột chiên. Alas, these make less sense than traditional renditions, as morsels of oysters and seafood do not enhance their original forms in any way and are just…there, even though Mr. Béo’s bột chiên is a serviceable version with a crunchy coating and flavorsome soy sauce.

Iced tea and kumquat tea.

Even as the pastel mauve sky turns to a deep blue, the buzz of activity is never-ending at Mr. Béo’s square of sidewalk. A cascade of bikes come and go, and the team of yellow-shirted staff scuttles about like an assembly line. This plot of unassuming sidewalk somehow embodies the ideal recipe for a kickass night snack location. It’s in open air and near the street, but not too near, so you can eat without fearing for your life or your lungs’ inner lining. I have never been one brave enough to slurp raw oysters straight from its shell, but here lives a winning way to relish one of the ocean’s best offerings. I’d like to think that 164,000 years from now, when alien astro-archeologists land on a barren Earth, deserted due to cataclysmic climate disasters, they will dig up a fossil of me at 500 Hậu Giang, holding a plate of fossilized oyster omelette in my cold, dead hands.

Swag.

Mr. Béo is open from 5pm to 11:30pm.

To sum up:

Taste: 4/5 — the oyster omelette and porridge are 5/5, everything else is 3/5.
Price: 5/5
Atmosphere: 4/5
Friendliness: 5/5
Location: 4/5

Khoi loves bột chiên, is a raging millennial and will write for food.

Mr. Béo Oyster Omelette and Porridge

500 Hậu Giang, Ward 11, D6

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