pen shells

Pen shells in Vietnam

Pen shells, or sometimes fan mussels, are marine bivalve molluscs of the family Pinnidae. The shells of bivalves in this family are fragile and have a long and triangular shape. There are three genuses: Atrina, Pinna, and Streptopinna, but most species are in the first two genuses because the Streptopinna genus contains only one species.

Large comb pen shells (Atrina pectinata)
Large comb pen shells (Atrina pectinata)
  • Class: Bivalvia
  • Order: Pteriida
  • Family: Pinnidae
  • English name: Pen shells
  • Vietnamese names: Bàn mai, sò mai, biên mai
Atrina vexillum - flag pen shell
Atrina vexillum – flag pen shell – in southern Vietnam

In Vietnamese, pen shellls are known as bàn mai, and several regional names like sò mai, biên mai, or con bawso chuối. Some common pen shell species include:

  • Atrina pectinata (comb pen shell, Pacific pen shell, Vietnamese: bàn mai)
  • Atrina penna (feather pen shell)
  • Atrina vexillum (flag pen shell, Indo-Pacific pen shell)
  • Pinna atropurpurea (dark purple pen shell)
  • Pinna bicolor (bi-color pen shell, Vietnamese: bàn mai tím)
Atrina pectinata (comb pen shell)
Small comb pen shells (Atrina pectinata) in Hà Tĩnh province (central Vieitnam)
Pinna atropurpurea (dark purple pen shell)
Pinna atropurpurea (dark purple pen shell)
Pinna bicolor
Pinna bicolor

Culinary uses

Pen shells can be cooked in many very typical dishes with a sea flavor such as: grilled with spring onion fat, stir-fried with shiitake mushrooms, grilled with fermented bean curd, or cooked in seafood hot pots… But the most favorite dish to the Vietnamese is probably grilled pen shells with spring onion fat.

Grilled comb pen shells with spring onion oil
Grilled comb pen shells with spring onion oil
grilled dark purple pen shells
Grilled dark purple pen shells
Grilled flag pen shells with spring onion oil
Grilled flag pen shells with spring onion oil in Quảng Ninh province

The white adductor muscle that connects the two shells is commonly referred to as the pen shell meat.

Grilled pen shell meat in Phu Quoc island
Grilled pen shell meat in Phú Quốc island
Pen shell salad
Pen shell salad in Quảng Ninh province

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