Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Vietnamese Grilled Oysters

Thanks to aquaculture, oysters can be found pretty much anywhere in the world, even in places where one may least suspect their presence. One such place is Vietnam. While the shellfish industry is not a traditional one, oyster cultivation has taken root in Vietnam, spanning over twenty-eight (28) provinces from the north to south of the country.  Given most of the oyster production is sold for local consumption, there is little chance that an oyster from Vietnam would grace a seafood market on the other side of the globe. 

It has been said that "oyster farming is cushy." Those words came from the first oyster farmer in the Long Hoa commune, which is found in the Can Gio District just outside of Ho Chi Minh City. The oysters are placed in cages, or hung from ropes on rafts in March, which the farmers tend as the oysters grow. After about four or five months, the farmers begin to harvest the oysters. The harvesting continues for the rest of the year and into the new year, ending around the time of the Tet holiday. The harvested oysters then make the trip to the nearest processing facility. 

In doing the research for this post, I found the two different methods of oyster farming -- cages or ropes, to be really interesting. The first method, cages, is fairly self explanatory. The cages are situated on structures that keep them off of the bottom. The structures also keep the cages in place, where their contents -- mesh begs -- allow oysters to grow. The other method involves the use of rafts, with ropes that hang down from the rafts. The oysters grow on the ropes.

Oyster cultivation using rafts and ropes in
Van Don District, Quang Ninh Province in Vietnam
(Source: Cuisine of Vietnam)

According to one oyster distributor, Vo Tien Chuong, the Vietnamese prefer to eat raw oysters; however, their cuisine does feature dishes such as sour oyster soup and oyster floss. The latter dish is an almost dried mixture of oyster meat, shrimp, pork, fish sauce and salt. While oyster floss made it to the list of dishes that I will make some day, I decided to approach the interplay of oysters and Vietnamese cuisine from a different angle. 

More specifically, I wanted to further explore the Vietnamese concept of "Ngũ Hành" or "Ngũ Vi." This concept is otherwise known as the five elements. When it comes to cooking, there are multiple levels of quintuple elements. For example, there are the five flavors: spice, sour, salty, bitter and sweet. There are also the five textures: crispy, crunchy, chewy, soft and silky. There are even the five cooking methods: raw, steamed, broiled, fried/grilled, and fermented. East Asian cuisines generally, and Vietnamese cuisine in particular, have achieved an amazing balance among the elements at every level. 

I found a recipe for a "zesty Vietnamese dressing" that demonstrated this balance, at least as it came to the five flavors.  Running down the ingredient list, I saw how each item could fit in the balance. The chiles provided the spice. Lime juice perhaps contributes the sour or bitter flavors. Fish sauce definitely imbues a salty umami flavor and there can be no dispute that honey adds sweetness to the dish. 

Together all of these ingredients provide that balance that contributes to an overall amazing flavor of a sauce that could be served alongside or on top of oysters. While I have made many a mignonette sauce to go with raw oysters, I think this cause could perhaps be the best one for oysters served in any of the five cooking methods, thereby achieving balance in yet another, albeit indirect way.  


Recipe from Irena Macri

Serves 2-4


  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1 small garlic clove, finely diced
  • 1/2 long red chile, finely diced
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon coconut sugar/syrup or raw honey
  • 1 tablespoon Tamari sauce
  • 1 tablespoon chopped scallions
  • 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
  • 1 or 2 dozen oysters


1. Prepare the sauce. Mix or whisk all of the ingredients in a bowl. 

2. Prepare the oysters. Shuck the oysters, removing the top shell but leaving the oysters in the bottom shell.  Spoon 1/2 tablespoon to 1 tablespoon (depending upon the size of the oyster) over the oyster.

3. Grill the oysters. Heat a grill on high heat. Add the oyster shells and grill for 2 minutes. Remove from the grill and serve immediately. 


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