The bounty of fresh morsels offered up by the East Sea in this part of Vietnam may seem limitless, but it’s not always treated with the respect it deserves by the area’s restaurateurs. Indeed, on my numerous previous visits to the area, I tend to fixate on the truly memorable seafood feasts — like the one I experienced along the road in Phan Thiet, at one of the local restaurants that line the estuary. What a feed that was. A smorgasbord of swimmer crab, giant grilled shrimp, and a jellyfish salad given crunch by the presence of lotus flower stems and zing by a zesty blend of limejuice, fish sauce and chilli and then washed down with bottles of ice-cold Saigon Red. Delicious.
The range of dining options is greater in Mui Ne, but for quite some time I had failed to equal my momentous evening in Phan Thiet. The provenance of the seafood is beyond doubt, yet the glistening offerings displayed on ice outside the strip’s many restaurants can be interchangeable and perhaps rendered humdrum by careless cooking, inflated tourist prices and disappointingly cheesy atmospherics.
I had just about given up hope when a chance encounter with a drunken Australian acquaintance – who needs the Lonely Planet when you can call upon inebriated Antipodeans – threw up the name of Bo Ke. “Best place in town,” he slurred enthusiastically in the general direction of my girlfriend and I. Turns out he was right.
The restaurant (or quan in Vietnamese parlance) is situated on the right hand side at the northern end of the strip quite a way beyond the thick of the action. It would be tempting to call it basic due to its low, low prices and utilitarian concrete tables, but the al-fresco setting adjacent to the waves actually provides it with one of the best ambiences in town, as suited to a romantic feast for two as it is for a rowdy gathering of compadres. There is nothing fancy about the food. Various morsels — including lobster, crab, grouper, snapper and others — are plucked live from a concrete tank out front, grilled or sautéed (perhaps with the addition of a sticky tamarind sauce) then served up with a DIY dipping sauce of fresh lime, salt and pepper.
I’ve eaten there several times now and have had no cause for complaint. Service can be erratic, but never malevolently so, and you probably won’t care so much when you are ordering your third serving of scallops with spring onion and peanuts.
* Photo credit: Sites ‘n Bites