Ba Khia - Freshwater crabs in southern coastal provinces

ba khia freshwater crabs in southern coastal provinces
The wetland-dwelling ba khía (three-striped crab) is most popular in the southern coastal provinces of Bac Lieu and Ca Mau where locals consider the creature a familiar delicacy.

For generations, the crab has been preserved and eaten year-round as a salty addition to most meals. These days, however, urban cooks are coming up with new and interesting takes on the once-simple delicacy.

Ba khia crabs have purplish pincers and eight hairy legs. Their underbellies are usually ruddy and their insides are always flavorful with either an orange or grey color. They commonly dwell in brackish coastal mangrove forests where they hide all day long and come out at night to look for food.

Prior to the harvest season, coastal farming communities typically hold a weekend festival centered entirely around the tasty treat.

ba khia freshwater crabs in southern coastal provinces
The crabs are often eaten alone, over plain rice.

During the feast holiday (which typically falls in the tenth month of the lunar calendar), members of the community wait for nightfall, when the small crabs crawl out of their burrows to feed on the outlying branches.

The hunters harvest the ba khía by vigorously shaking the trees. Children scurry around the trees filling buckets with the falling creatures. Wives are ready to begin preparing them the minute they're caught.

Some of the crabs are cleaned and steamed on the spot. But the majority are cleaned, salted and preserved for lean time. They are soaked in salt water for seven days. After a week of fermentation the tiny creatures will reliably keep fresh for an entire year.

The crabs are often eaten alone, over plain rice.

At other times, they're shredded and sprinkled with lime, chili, garlic and sugar. The dish is typically eaten with fresh vegetables, herbs and rice.

Before, ba khía has always been treated as a provincial, poor man’s dish. But through time, the flavorful crabs caught up and today are served in fancy restaurants in the major cities in Vietnam. From its usual, simple cooking, ba khia today is served in more elaborate ways. Some restaurants even steam the crabs in beer. Salted ba khía can now be bought in supermarkets and other stores./.