Enter Anh Ba Khía through a tiny storefront embellished with bamboo at 466 Hai Ba Trung. 'The Crab Shack", as Gavin and I have so fondly christened it, specializes in Cháo Cua Đồng, a pragmatic rice porridge teeming with crab fat, mushrooms, green onions, and pork (if you are so inclined).
After the perfunctory exchange of pleasantries, we ordered ourselves two steaming bowls and took a seat in an over-sized and shockingly comfortable bamboo chair. By now the wooden motif was slightly overwhelming and we took in the fibrous restaurant around us while our soups were prepared in the roadside, makeshift kitchen.
A straw hut, bamboo wall decorations, woven baskets springing forth from the walls, a vibrant palm tree, and even stuffed monkeys. The rainforest is alive and well here, blooming forth from a minuscule storefront straddling a poisonous canal and a monolith-lined slab of worn concrete (Hai Ba Trung).
When our porridge arrived, we were excited to see it accompanied by a type of new swamp roughage and other toppings.
After a healthy dousing of oily, ground chili peppers, we topped our soup with tasty leaves that looked suspiciously like tiny lily pads that fragile froglets perch on. We also achieved our recommended daily dosage of vitamin C by aggressively squeezing green oranges into the porridge.
I was a bit dismayed to find a chunk of pork in mine; but plowed onwards in the name of hunger, avoiding any suspicious-looking lumps. We both found the porridge to be filling and delightful.
Often in Vietnam, goodies are left on the table for patrons to eat at their own discretion. Depending on the eatery, you may encounter packaged nuts, fried breads, or assorted meats and jellies wrapped in banana leaves. At Anh Ba Khía, their goodie plate included a bag full of Banh Bò Thốt Nốt - thinly sliced pieces of delicate, spongy sweet bread flavored with palm sugar. A subtle, honey-combed confection that should not be overlooked.
We close today with a small, non-denominational prayer: May "The Crab Shack" prosper and all who have sampled the porridge cross the threshold fulfilled.