To answer the common question: “what to eat in Saigon,” nine out of ten Vietnamese respondents will choose sea snails! In Ho Chi Minh City, there are dozens of restaurants as well as vendors serving different types of snails cooked in hundreds of ways. Therefore, despite the culinary mushrooming happening in Saigon, sea snails restaurants are always busy and this growth has rarely shown signs of stopping. This is your guide to everything sea snails in Saigon – what to order and where!
What to Order
1. Oc Huong
What to order: “oc huong rang muoi” – sea snails roasted with salt.
Dubbed as a first-class seafood specialty, these small sweet snails enchant diners due to their uniquely flavorful sweetness and firmness. Sweet snails can be cooked into multiple delicacies, such as sweet snails steamed with ginger, or grilled and roasted with garlic, but the most interesting is sweet snails roasted with salt. It always ranks high on the priority list of choices for foodies when they step into any Vietnamese sea snail restaurant. The dish is notable not only because of its natural fragrance and the sweet taste of the sea snails themselves, but also the charm of spicy chili and salt combination that is hard to describe.
2. Oc Len
What to order: “oc len xao dua” – sea snails sautéed with coconut.
Presenting a rustic flavor, sea snails sautéed with coconut is a local delight, popular for its characteristically delicious, fatty taste. It is virtually impossible to resist the greasy fragrance of snails sautéed with coconut. Customarily, people use their hands to pick up the sea snail, put it in their mouths, and start sucking the sweet and fatty coconut broth out of the snail’s shell. The chewiness of the snail meat coupled with the richness of the coconut soup make diners pine for more.
3. So Huyet
What to order: “so huyet nuong” – grilled cockles.
For Vietnamese gourmands, grilled cockles are still the most deliciously prepared (I do realize that cockles aren’t technically “snails” but they still belong on this list). This grilled assortment beats out snails roasted with garlic, tossed in salads, infused in soups and fried with tamarind. As a matter of fact, among all these preparations, cockles grilled at medium heat have a unique flavor, almost like bacon. So huyet is usually served with lemon, black pepper, salt, and some laksa leaves.
Grilled snails taste somewhat similar to bacon.
What to order: “ngheu hap” – steamed sea clams.
Clams are not a strange ingredient to the culinary world, but the finesse and the uniqueness with which clams are cooked in Saigon make this dish a true specialty. Among the various ways to cook clams, we would be remiss not to mention clams steamed with lemongrass. Clams are steamed solely with chopped stalks of lemongrass, chili peppers, and some basic spices. Interestingly, this simple way of cooking really works, and after a try, the majority of foodies keep coming back for more.
5. Cang Ghe
What to order: “cang ghe rang muoi” – crab pincers roasted with chili salt.
Crab is not a type of sea snail, but oc restaurants in Saigon actually offer customers many sorts of crustacean. Tasting this dish is as close as you’ll ever get to enjoying the full bounty of the sea. The crab claws are roasted with a chili-salt seasoning that never fails to enamor food lovers from the very first try. It’s slightly greasy from the vegetable oil and mildly salty. The heat quickly sears the tongue and propels right up into your nostrils—but it’s the good kind of burn – the one spice addicts crave!
6. Oc Ca Na
What to order: “Oc ca na xao bo cay” – sea snails sautéed with spicy butter.
Oc ca na xao bo cay always appears on the must-try list for newcomers in Saigon. Each sea snail sautéed in spicy butter is the most balanced combination of decadent butter and spice. Food enthusiasts will be begging for more!
7. So Long
What to order: “So long nuong mo hanh” – sea snails grilled with green onions.
This type of large saltwater clams is easily found along the coast of Vietnam. Ark clams can be steamed or cooked with porridge, but the version most preferred is ark clams grilled with green onions.
So long nuong mo hanh is not a terribly sophisticated dish but delivers indescribable flavor. To have the best quality dishes, the cooks must choose the freshest batch only. Next, in order to remove all the dirt, they have to soak the clams in water with chili and then separate the meat from their shells. They then put the clams on the grill, sprinkle some chopped green onions and then brush them with a bit of oil. They grill the meat until it begins to smell fragrant and then finally, they sprinkle some roasted peanuts on top of the meat. The dish is served with diluted sweet fish sauce.
8. Oc Mo
What to order: “Oc mo xao toi” – sea snails sautéed with garlic.
Cooking this dish is quite simple. First, boil oc mo with a couple of stalks of lemongrass, then pick the sea snails out and let them dry. Place a pan on the stove, heat some oil, and stir in some minced garlic, followed by a teaspoon of cashew nut oil and sugar. Put the sea snails in the pan and keep stirring at low heat until the mixture changes into the yellowish-brown color.
Where to Find the Best Sea Snails in Saigon!
To simplify your journey of discovering this niche cuisine, we offer you a list of the best sea snail restaurants in the city. Here are the top six addresses in town that are worth your time and energy.
1. Oc Dao
Address: Alley 212B, Nguyen Trai Street, District 1
When it comes to sea snail restaurants, the first name recommended is undoubtedly Oc Dao. With a diverse menu, fresh ingredients and skillful seasoning, this restaurant is well-known not only among local citizens but also among a number of tourists. Currently, the branch has a total of three addresses in Saigon, but the most famous location is the one on the Nguyen Trai Street.
2. Oc Oanh
Address: 534 Vinh Khanh Street, District 4
Situated in the middle of Vinh Khanh alley, a known paradise for seafood lovers, this restaurant is not a luxurious destination; instead, it is a simple, open-air setting that can accommodate more than 500 guests. Because of being a popular destination in town, Oc Oanh is nearly crowded at all times. Therefore, sometimes customers have to wait a while to be seated. Almost every dish here is highly-rated, but the signature item on their menu is the salted roasted crab claws. Another plus is it’s reasonably priced, only around 40,000 VND per plate.
3. Oc Thao
Address: 231 Hoang Dieu Street, District 4
Oc Thao is known as the location that begins selling sea snails the earliest… you can have a breakfast of snails if you’d like! The rather quaint eatery serves up some pretty delectable meals, with prices ranging on average from 25,000 to 35,000 VND for each dish. That being said, this a perfect place for families and friends to taste dozens of types of sea snail dishes here at significantly cheaper prices compared to other competitors. The restaurant has a strict policy on not serving more than two bottles of beer per customer to avoid debauchery.
4. Oc To
Address: C218 Xom Chieu Street, District 4
In Vietnamese, “to” simply means a big bowl. Surely, the name easily reveals this restaurant’s penchant for serving dishes in large bowls priced at 50,000 VND each. Another highlight of the restaurant is that the chef can cook one type of sea snail in many different ways according to the customer’s demands. Grilled, sautéed, fried, steamed… the sky is the limit! The owner who has run the whole operation single-handedly for fifteen years now chooses all the ingredients daily. Furthermore, to guarantee the quality of each dish, the owner will gladly replace a dish if the sea snails are not to customers’ satisfaction.
5. Oc 63 – 63
Address: 63 – 63 Nguyen Truong To Street, District 4
Located at 63 Nguyen Truong To, District 4, Oc 63 is famous for its crab curries. There isn’t a diner who comes to this place without ordering a crab dish. Each dish is offered at a high standard and the space is quite cozy. Oc 63 is a recommended destination for people to enjoy the finest crabs and sea snails in Saigon. The prices of dishes on the menu range from 65,000 to 80,000 VND. Although it is slightly pricier than other places, the size of each dish is bigger and the quality is also higher compared to rivals.
6. Oc Loan
Address: 175/26, Nguyen Thien Thuat Street, District 3
To cap our well-rounded list is the charming Oc Loan. Situated in the crowded Nguyen Thien Thuat apartment complex, this has been a longtime favorite of Saigon’s “oc” enthusiasts. As much of a highlight as the extremely spacious outdoor dining space, the food options are greatly diverse. The restaurant offers multiple versions for each type of sea snail, and each dish packs a different flavor.
Or you can even join a food tour and let the guide arrange everything for you. And although I love sea snails, you’ll get to try a bunch of other delicious foods as well. Explore the most favorite food stalls of local people hidden in small alleys. That’s why it is worth booking a food tour in Vietnam, get to know the ins and outs of our culinary culture! Check out the website to find interesting food tours offered by Onetrip throughout Vietnam.
I can guarantee that it is impossible to find any place with better sea snails dishes than here, right in Vietnam’s most bustling city. So what are you waiting for? Go try some and let us know what you think in the comments. Order all types – I dare you!
Read more of our local cuisines:
Enjoyed this article and would like to read more about what to see, do, and eat in Vietnam? Follow us at The Christina’s Blog.