Sa Sung

Sá Sùng

Sá sùng, commonly known as sea sandworms or peanut worms (Sipuncula nudus), may have an unappealing appearance, yet they are the most luxurious seafood in Quảng Ninh Province and could potentially be the highlight of your next vacation.

For local food connoisseurs, sá sùng is a rare ingredient and speciality often found in the seas of Quan Lạn island in Hạ Long Bay. Sá sùng can be made into a variety of dishes with a variety of flavours and seasonings, as well as being used to treat a variety of diseases and nourish the body, as many Vietnamese believe.

Sandworms can be found deep in the sand along coastal dunes. They conceal in sand cracks at depths ranging from 10 to 30 meters. It’s a reddish-brown mollusc that’s boneless and looks like an earthworm. They are normally 5cm to 10cm in length but can reach 40cm when fully grown.

How to cook?

To extend the shelf life of sá sùng, it is typically dry in the sun after harvesting. They’re marine worms that are eaten both fresh and dried, although it is only the dried form that is used to flavour broth in Việt Nam. Because of the umami and depth, it adds to the soup (similar to dried scallops), top Hanoian chefs utilize dried sá sùng to prepare outstanding phở broth. Before adding to the stock, the sá sùng must be grilled or roasted to release the irresistible fragrance and depth. Grilled dried sá sùng were a traditional phở broth component that only a few people still use nowadays. Sá sùng, on the other hand, has its characteristics, but the most important thing is to understand the role it plays in making phở broth.

Sandworms were historically provided as a tribute to kings and mandarins, and have long been regarded as a delicacy enjoyed by royalty and the wealthy. Aside from phở broth making, they can be boiled in porridge, used to make soups, stir-fried, deep-fried, eaten whole in a pot of spicy hot pot, or added to stir-fried dishes with vegetables and meats, intensifying the flavour of all the other ingredients. Furthermore, they can be baked, served with salt, chilli and lime, and also be mixed with pepper and grilled. Beer lovers tend to have charcoal grilled sandworms with their drinks, as like shredded dried squid, it is crunchy and tastes sweet. Anyone who has had sá sùng like this will agree that it is beyond their expectation when combined with fresh lettuce and beer.

Why so expensive?

Aside from being a rare ingredient, the worms can only be discovered in sandy places along the coast where the seawater rises and falls during the day. The worms are harvested in tidal flats, often by women. People have to hunt for sá sùng rapidly when it ebbs, which they commonly do by digging in the sand. Catchers must work extremely hard to obtain one kilogram of sandworms. The worms leave holes in the sand in the shape of a star as they feed at night, making it easier for local fishermen to find their burrows. When they’re caught, they curl up into a ball, and their skin turns a different colour once they’re out of the ocean environment.

The worm-hunting technique is difficult, as it requires pinpointing their location before digging them up in the scorching heat.

It is not only difficult to detect where the worms were hidden under the sand but catching them without killing them is even more difficult. The unskilled could easily cut off sand worms’ bodies, making them hard to sell because damaged worms lose their original savoury flavour and freshness. The sandworms are then washed carefully, ensuring that all the sand is removed from their insides. They are washed until turning an ivory-white colour.

Conservation efforts

In 2016, the People’s Committee of Quang Ninh Province issued a decision on protecting the genes of Sipunculus Nudus Linnaeus in the province, to secure the long-term survival of sandworms in the face of resource depletion and pollution.

The provincial centre for Science, Technology and Aquatic Seed Production has currently conserved and operated 10 hectares of sandworms in the localities of Vân Đồn, Đầm Hà, Hải Hà, and Móng Cái.

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Bulk Order (min $250) via Catersmith. Order must be placed at least 3 days in advance.