Meet the Expert: Vo Tien Cuong on Oysters
Nothing says special occasion quite like oysters. As we approach the festive season we decided to track down an expert who could provide us with the information that will both inform and assist us in what we should look for when eating these delicious fruits of the sea.
We met with Vo Tien Cuong at his La Maison Wine Grill Bar here in the city. He is an expert in the care, preparation service and eating of oysters. He also distributes oysters throughout Ho Chi Minh City.
You are a distributor of oysters here in Ho Chi Minh City. Can you let us know more about what you do?
I am the proprietor of La Maison Restaurant but I also distribute oysters. My brother is an oyster farmer in Nha Trang, he introduced Fin De Claire oysters from France a few years ago. These normally live in cold water but are thriving very well in the warmer waters of Vietnam. They have a superb fresh flavour, with a good healthy sea water taste.
So, you are an oyster distributor as well as a restaurateur in Ho Chi Minh City?
Yes, as well as selling in the restaurant we have built up a good distribution network. I serve them in my restaurant at VND15,000 per oyster, if anyone wishes to buy to serve themselves at home then about VND8,000 – 10,000, so long as they buy 30 oysters. We can deliver all over Ho Chi Minh City. We have a hotline at 09 0893 0888 or people can order through our facebook page: www.facebook.com/lamaisonSG. We need at least two hours notice. If they buy 100 pieces they receive a free knife.
How many restaurants do you supply in HCMC?
Many, they are becoming very popular. It is no longer just the five star restaurants that are selling top quality oysters. Small restaurant too are enjoying serving them to their customers. We are getting enquiries from other places these days. Sometimes I even deliver to Hanoi, but it is harder to keep them fresh.
How do you serve them here in your restaurant and which type do your Vietnamese diners prefer?
We have two ways: the first is as in France; raw with proper lemon, onions and vinegar and the second way is baked with cheese. The Vietnamese prefer them raw. They have really taken to Fin de Claire, because they are smaller, they don’t over-face people.
Do other places apart from Nha Trang produce oysters in Vietnam?
Yes, in the North oysters are grown in Hanoi, but I think Nha Trang are of a higher quality and of course it is closer to us here. Some Vietnamese prefer the smaller ones like we do but many go for the bigger varieties, it all really depends on the farmer, on how long he allows the oyster to mature. Oyster farming in Khanh Hoa Province is a huge industry now, there are 35,000 oyster cages in the area, it is a US$100 million business.
Before you came here were Vietnamese people already used to eating oysters?
Yes, but Vietnamese oysters are different, they are bigger and the Vietnamese traditionally didn’t eat in the French way. These were wild oysters rather than farmed, they put them in clean water for a few days to clean them. Then they ate them in two ways. They either added onions, oil and peanuts and baked them in an oven or they cooked them Singapore style, where they put just the flesh in a rice soup. But slowly they are taking to the French style.
What is the process used to cultivate the new Fin De Claire oysters in Nha Trang?
They have large bamboo rafts that are tethered loosely, so these can rise and fall with the tide. Oysters are cultivated to the point at which they attach themselves to surfaces. They put them in baskets or cages and fix these to the raft in the sea, they then grow up naturally. The baskets hang underneath. They have no standard method, each farmer will have his own small differences. In many ways the farmed oysters are superior, these creatures don’t eat as we do, they just filter nutrients from the sea. The sea in Nha Trang is very good, so they grow in a very healthy environment. They are also protected from predators like crabs and starfish.
How do you ensure freshness when delivering from Nha Trang?
They are harvested in Nha Trang in the afternoon, placed flat to retain the water, in coolers set to 5ºC and transported immediately overnight arriving here early in the morning, perfectly fresh. It is very easy to tell if an oyster is fresh. If they are not fresh they start to open. You don’t need to use a knife, any that are like this we just throw away. If people buy from us, they must keep them in the refrigerator and they will last for 3 days.
Do you have any wishes for the future of oysters in Vietnam?
I wish we could see more types of French oysters here, I wish someone could import Marene D’Oleron or Normandie and more kinds of oysters. When in France we have such a choice, it would be exciting to be able to present these to Vietnam.