Saigon diners pay top-dollar for crab sticky rice

By Huynh Nhi   February 22, 2023 | 05:06 pm PT
An expensive crab sticky rice dish in Ho Chi Minh City has become popular with people from all around Vietnam over the past 5 years.

Xoi cua (crab sticky rice) is presented to look like a crab. The half-sphere of sticky rice is placed on the center of a plate to resemble the crab’s body, while the crab’s shell is placed on top and two large crab claws are set on the two sides.

The well-seasoned sticky rice is cooked to have a yellow crust on the outside covering a soft inside of rice and crab meat.

When eating the shared dish, diners use a spoon to crack the crispy outer crust, and then scoop the sticky rice into their own bowls. Crabs used for this dish are often meaty and large, about 0.5 to 1 kilogram per crab.

crab sticky rice shaped in the form of a crab. Photo by VnExpress/Le Thuong

crab sticky rice shaped in the form of a crab. Photo by VnExpress/Le Thuong

Crabs from the Mekong Delta, especially the southernmost province of Ca Mau, are favored because they’re known for their sweet, firm, and fragrant meat. Northern Dien Bien glutinous rice is the other star of the dish available at seafood restaurant Kim Quan at 27 Nguyen Luong Bang Street in District 7, Ho Chi Minh City.

The rice grains are round, with naturally alternating opaque and transparent grains. Once the rice is cooked, each grain of sticky rice becomes pronounced while still adhering to the cluster as a whole.

After buying sticky rice, cooks wash and soak the grains overnight. This allows the rice to absorb water and cook more quickly, producing moist, fragrant sticky rice. The sticky rice tastes best when it is steamed twice. After steaming for the first time, the rice is stirred and left to cool down. It is then steamed once more to extend its shelf life and prevent drying out throughout the day.

Crab sticky rice with a crispy crust. Photo courtesy of Kim Quan

Crab sticky rice with a crispy crust. Photo courtesy of Kim Quan

One of the most interesting things about this dish is how the sticky rice's crust is made. The cook coats a thin layer of rice on the inside of a stainless steel bowl. Then they put that bowl in a pan with boiling oil to fry the crust to a golden crisp, which forms the outer layer of the dish.

The crab meat itself is first steamed before being shredded into small pieces. The meat is then mixed with sticky rice – along with pork floss, fried shallots and scallion oil – to create an aromatic savory mixture. The salty and sweet taste of pork floss combines with the firm crab meat, and the soft sticky rice blends everything together.

Hanoian Le Thuong said that when she ate at Kim Quan, the dish was so good that she had to order a portion to bring back home.

"It's really delicious," she said. "The flavors remained the same even when I brought it all the way back to Hanoi. I just needed to steam the sticky rice again, and bake the crust for about one minute. Then it tasted brand new."

A portion of sticky rice can serve about two people. Crab sticky rice costs between VND575,000 and 1.15 million ($24.18 and 48.36) per plate.

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