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Vietnam town in Beihai city

By Pauline D. Loh | Shanghai Star | Updated: 2014-11-02 10:55
Vietnam town in Beihai city

SUPPER BITES: A bowl of baby crab rice noodles is a meal by itself while barbecued oysters, prawn fritters and bouncy squid balls satisfy the craving for snacking. [Photo by Pauline D. Loh/Shanghai Star]

The shop signs are all bilingual, in Chinese and Vietnamese, and that should give us a hint of what to expect in this little corner of town filled with the most delicious supper options. Pauline D. Loh explores, armed with curiosity and a hungry tummy.

Baby crab rice noodles. That was the temptation before us. Only, there was no sign of any crab in the bowl.

Instead, the vermicelli was topped with slices of pork, a lone baby abalone, three fish balls and a generous serving of vegetables. Somewhere by the side were a few spoonfuls of what looked like curdled custard.

"That’s the crab roe. Baby crabs," says Pato Li, our epicurean guide of the night. He was grinning, and obviously enjoying the joke on our unsuspecting gathering.

It was delicious. The crab roe did indeed add richness to this humble bowl without too much pomp. Its flavor permeated the soup, and the noodles were all quickly slurped up as the table turned silent in appreciation.

We were in Vietnam town, a popular after-dark supper destination for the local Beihai folks. A good secret is hard to keep under wraps and more and more tourists are finding their way here.

It is actually named Qiaogang Zhen, which literally translates to "a port (or town) for overseas Chinese". Most of the residents here are Chinese who had emigrated to Vietnam, were purged and sent over the border back to China.

Many still speak Vietnamese, although the working language among stallholders and customers remains "baihua", a Cantonese dialect native to the region.

It is also the reason why Vietnamese rice rolls are a major attraction, and many veteran craftsmen sit over steamers all night long producing countless of these freshly made rice rolls for hungry diners.

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