Christmas came and went without much notice around here. We're preoccupied with a number of other things at the moment, and honestly we've never cottoned to Christmas in Asia, with its somewhat soulless consumerist frenzy that rivals anything in the US (Philippines excepted - there, in spite of the heat, Christmas does feel like Christmas). Besides, we're half still in Vietnam, mentally at least.
Today we're thinking of Saigon (though we're not done with Hoi An yet) and a simple but utterly delicious concoction dished up by a vendor at Tanh Din Market (just off Hai Ba Trung Street). We noticed this woman when we were there last August. Seated next to an enormous metal pot, she was surrounded every morning by a clutch of customers perched on tiny stools spooning up a pale soup from small bowls held close to their mouths. We assumed it was chao (rice porridge) - an excellent chao we figured, if her steady business was any indication - and vowed to investigate further when we had a chance.
Said opportunity presented itself a few weeks ago, and we found that her specialty is not chao but sup cua, or crab soup. Sup cua is fairly viscous, along the lines of a banh canh, but if you can get past the texture you're in for a treat. What we assumed were egg threads crowding the broth turned out to be shreds (and a few chunks) of super-sweet crab meat and the thinnest slivers of dried Chinese mushrooms. This vendor's broth is so redolent of crustacean that it must be made from boiled with crab shells.
She tops each bowl with a sprinkle of fresh coriander and a blob of chili sauce; diners are left to add soy, if they wish, white pepper, and yet more cilantro and chili. It's a small bowl but the soup is filling. Assertively crabby but generally mildly flavored, it makes for a comforting breakfast.
Our neighbor and her mother, residents of the 'hood, told us they eat breakfast here everyday. We sure wish we could.
Sup cua, Than Din Market (front 'food court' - this vendor sits across from the wooden hu tieu cart), early morning to mid-afternoon.