Back in the ’70s, Vietnamese refugees worked shrimp boats in Louisiana. When their kids moved out to California, they’d boil up some crawfish when they got homesick. Today Vietnamese-run crawfish restaurants dot California.
And now there’s one in the Queen City.
Mike Nguyen and Michelle Tu came from San Jose to start Crackin’ Crawfish near UNC Charlotte. Cousins who run nail salons here helped find space, then Mike and his carpenter father upfitted it themselves using unadorned natural wood to evoke a coastal crab shack.
The focus is on shellfish, a tradition both in Vietnam and the U.S. “We like to sit down, enjoy with family. It’s a great way to relax,” Nguyen says, smiling. “If you’re not afraid to get messy.”
Your choice of crawfish – shipped direct from Louisiana and Texas – or clams, crab or lobster are cooked to order in a special-recipe broth laced with garlic and butter. (Crawfish vary with market prices; it’s $9.99 a pound at the moment.) That’s California style, says Nguyen, different from the dry rub preparation favored in Louisiana.
The shellfish, plus boiled potatoes and corn if you like, arrives at your table in a big plastic bag. California crawfish places developed that method of keeping the seafood at optimum temperature.
Tie on a bib, spill open the bag on your paper-topped table and dig in.
Tom Hanchett is staff historian at Levine Museum of the New South: firstname.lastname@example.org. Don't miss the Food from Home section of the museum's “Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers” exhibit.
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