Under a flapping raincoat on a cold, wet evening, we hit a duck cave. The weather was not affecting the duck crowd. They were there in droves, shoved into the dingy but atmospheric and dry two-roomed space rather than sprawling along the pavement as is the case in fine weather. The service was almost posh for a moment, one of the duck runners taking the sodden raincoats to a cloakroom of sorts in the laneway alongside, where they were hung over a line.
We timed our entrance to perfection, landing a table right by the serving area just vacated by a group of duck-munchers, toothpicks still hanging from their lips. In one fell swoop, the table was cleared of duck carcass, screwed up serviettes, sticks and dishes, smeared with a dish cloth and we were seated, ready for some duck action of our own.
Across the way, over a chopping block in a basket, was a young man who enjoys the violent crack of cleaver on duck bone. An expert wielder and classifier of duck parts, he cut up our order of peculiarly translated gay duck. Gay is a Vietnamese word for lean (minus fat), not a comment on the sexual orientation of the duck nor a demanding customer proclivity, as in "I only eat homosexual duck!"
Duck parts are all around, gay and otherwise. In the corner directly at my back is a fridgefull of duck halves, neatly stacked on top of each other, their innards having been artfully removed. A glass cabinet which fronts the street doubles as a merchandising device to lure in patrons and a storage area for various duck bits discarded by the duck chopper.
Our duck bits arrive, having been made hot under the ladle pour of stock over and off the plate back into the pot, a simple but effective heating process. Thin slices of bamboo and generous sprigs of coriander add a bit of colour to the duck flesh which is served alongside more herbery (hung que, Asian basil) and more bamboo, this one pickled in cubes and bowled in a fruity chili sauce. The combination of flavours is palate perfect, obviously well tried and tested.
A second course consists of more duck, again gay, this time immersed with some glassy mien (cassava noodles) in a robust but clear stock. During our soup, the owner of the duck joint arrived on the scene, all bloodshot eyes and rice-wine breath, and created a scene of his own. He proceeded to admonish some poor duck helper for not looking busy enough, sending him wallowing to his knees to wipe out bowls and stack them neatly. Nobody knew where to look for a minute and then he was gone, out back to sip green tea or hit the hay.
We slurped a bit longer, cleansed our palates with a slice of starfruit, donned the raincoats and hit the road.
One plate of cleavered duck, four bowls of duck soup, four beers - 160,000VND (USD$10, AUD$12.20)
Lo Duc St