Saigon, early September.
The Ben Thanh Market had just taught me that I. Loved. Snails!
My whole trip quickly turned into a snail quest. I wanted to try every variety of snail that Saigon had to offer, and quickly, because I only had four days.
This quest is a story for another entry, but suffice it to say it led me to Quán Ốc Út Trang in District 1. Blood cockles and clams and coconut snails, oh my!
Julian risked life and limb to get this photo: he's standing in on the center line of a busy Saigon street! Ha ha, just kidding, Saigon streets don't have lane markers. He is in the center, though.On every table sat a bowl full of quail eggs. This was not unusual: lots of Vietnamese restaurants offer bowls full of quail eggs. Usually, they're hardboiled. You snack on as many as you want during your meal, and pay for however many you eat. You know, like the Cokes in hotel fridges, except the quail eggs cost about 5 cents instead of 8 dollars.
Anyway, Quán Ốc Út Trang's bowl of quail eggs aroused no suspicions. As I euphorically cracked cockles, unwound large snails from their shells, and plied the smaller snails with safety pins, I absentmindedly peeled a quail egg and stuck it in my mouth.
Surprise! Quail fetus!
(Thanks, Viet Street Food, for the photo. The immediate nature of my quail fetus dining experience did not allow me to take my own photo.)
Without all the heavy baggage accompanying my first taste of hột vịt lộn, I was able to dine on the egg in the manner that it deserved. It was cool, salty, crunchy, gamey, and gave satisfyingly easy access for a diner previously concentrated on laboriously extracting shelled animals from their shells.
In this breezy, natural context, these trứng cút lộn were to my snails as French fries are to a hamburger, falafel balls are to shawarma, poi is to Kalua pork, or naan is to chicken tikka masala.
Not a nightmare; not something to grit your teeth, grin, and bear; not an extreme challenge to conquer.
Just a refreshing, complementary snack.
Where to find various bird fetuses in Orange County:
I haven't seen the quail version, but there are a few places to get the duck version.
The place which provided me with my first taste of hột vịt lộn is:
Hột Vịt Lộn Long An
8942 Bolsa Ave
Westminster, CA 92683
I've also heard good things about:
9200 Bolsa Ave St 308
Westminster, CA 92683
While I haven't had them myself, one day, while I was waiting for my snails and sugarcane juice to be bagged up, I watched a guy come up and order one egg. He was extremely specific about the level of development of the duck he wanted, and rather than blow him off, the lady behind the counter took a good two minutes thoughtfully weighing each egg in her hands before carefully selecting one to give him.
Sitting in his mall folding chair with a handful of rau răm and salt in one fist and his egg in the other, taking big old bites and grinning brightly, he looked like the king of the world.
In Los Angeles, there is a market in Echo Park that has almost an entire aisle dedicated to fertilized eggs, and I MAY have seen some quail eggs in there too. I can't speak to their quality, but there must be some serious turnover if they have an entire AISLE of extremely time-sensitive eggs. Its info is:
A Grocery Warehouse
1487 W. Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026