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Ragworm omelets praised on foreign press as "a seasonal Vietnamese delicacy"

November 12, 2020 | 08:24

Ragworms appear on the sea’s surface on certain days of the lunar cycle in autumn. In Hanoi, Vietnam, they are harvested to make a delicacy called "chả rươi".

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Worm omelette, or cha ruoi, is a delicacy mostly eaten in Hanoi, Vietnam. Ragworms are boiled to remove their fishy flavour, then combined with eggs, minced pork, herbs and tangerine peel. (Photo: SCMP)

As autumn’s chilly winds sweep through the Vietnamese capital, anticipation grows among Hanoi’s foodies for a rare delicacy, one that’s unsuitable for the squeamish: fried worm omelets, South China Morning Post wrote in a recent article named "Tastes like caviar: worm omelet, a seasonal Vietnamese delicacy, draws diners from miles around".

At a roadside stall in the bustling old quarter of Hanoi, a popular tourist spot and famous for the markets and eateries scattered along the old streets, diners sit on small plastic chairs, waiting for the hot worm omelet.

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The worms are not served alive, but are boiled before being fried. (Photo: SCMP)

Foreign tourists may shiver at first glance at the dish made of worm-like creatures, but those worms are important ingredients to make a unique specialty of Hanoi. The mixture of ragworms, minced meat, eggs, tangerine peel, and herbs is fried until it turns golden brown, which leaves a crispy taste on the outside and soft on the inside of the omelet. This snack is mainly sold in a few stalls in the center of Hanoi.

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Worm omelettes are mostly eaten in Hanoi, although only at a few locations across the city. (Photo: SCMP)

As the midday rush gets closer, chefs at popular restaurant Cha Ruoi Hung Thinh fry the omelets in batches before piling them up on the stand. Over the next hour, customers throng the place, swiftly filling the seats and even overflowing into neighboring cafes. At Hanoi’s street stalls, the protein-rich meal, which costs a couple of dollars, comes served with bundles of rice vermicelli and a bowl of sweet-and-sour fish sauce. These extras, together with a refreshing glass of iced tea, help cut through the greasiness.

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Customers eat worm omelettes, which are known as chả rươi. (Photo: SCMP)

As told by South China Morning Post, Nguyen Thi Lan, a 38-year-old civil servant, traveled 10 kilometers (6 miles) with her colleagues to sample a worm omelet. “I’ve heard about this restaurant for years but this is the first time I’ve actually come here. The "chả rươi" is delicious and unique. It’s mixed with eggs and some leaves but tastes different from other kinds of grilled meat. We paid just under 700,000 Vietnamese dongs (30 USD) for eight people.”

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A cook prepares worm omelettes at the Cha Ruoi Hung Thinh restaurant. (Photo: SCMP)

The restaurant’s 40-year-old chef, Bui Thi Nga says, that her family has been running the restaurant for over 30 years. Nga left an office job to work here – one she accepted after graduating from university – as there was nobody else to replace her mum to run the stall.

“I am the third generation to sell chả rươi,” she says. “My grandfather opened this restaurant in 1986. My mum inherited it, and then when she grew old, she asked me to run it. I am selling it because I want to preserve a traditional Hanoi dish for future generations.”

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The worm omelette is usually served with rice noodles, a sweet-and-sour fish sauce and a glass of iced tea. (Photo: SCMP)

There was once a time when coastal farmers would leap into the sea and cast nets by hand each time the worms appeared. In recent years, they’ve started populating small lakes and even paddy fields with them.

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