The trip to Đà Nẵng actually wasn’t our top choice at first. We had planned a motorcycle trip across the Northwestern mountainous area of Vietnam, but then realized that biking along the curvy roads on the mountains in the storm season, with a high risk of landslides and floods, wouldn’t be so wise. So after some time weighing options, Đà Nẵng here we go!
I guess John agreed on Đà Nẵng because it’s a beach city and my sun-worshipping boyfriend would never say no to an opportunity to get some tan. I’m not a beach person though, so I picked Đà Nẵng mostly because of its reputation of hosting a wonderful cuisine. So, the gorgeous beaches of Mỹ Khê, Non Nước, the Marble Mountains, or Sơn Trà Peninsula, in spite of your beauty, I’m sorry, this blog post is not about you. 😛
Đà Nẵng cuisine didn’t disappoint us even a tiny bit, after the days we just simply hopped on a scooter and ate our way through the city. Sweet and savory, with a little touch of sourness and spiciness, meaty and herbal, everything can be offered in one dish. The harmony in all flavors and tastes, with vegetables and herbs balancing the protein is found in Vietnamese cuisine in general, but Đà Nẵng food has its own charm I failed to explain. (Also, the food is incredibly cheap that it shocked me a few times, haha). We spent only a few days there, and more than once I wished I could grow one more stomach, while my boyfriend, all happy and satisfied with all the food I showed him, started to called me his “foodie”.
Bánh canh ruộng
Bánh canh is a type of chewy noodles, and ruộng means “rice fields”. The name is a little confusing, but some said that the name comes from a small shop opened by a couple, surrounded by… paddy fields, selling this noodles.
We ordered thập cẩm, which means we would have everything in our bowl, including some chả cá (fish cakes), nem chua (fermented pork rolls), quail eggs, fish, and a big chunk of pork bone. The broth was flavorful, undoubtedly made with a generous amount of pork bones cooked for hours before serving, like any other Vietnamese noodles. The only thing I didn’t like is that there was a little too much black pepper and my throat protested, but if you have a love for spicy food, I think you’ll probably love the peppery dish.
Súp cua – Crab soup
Never in my life had I thought I could have a bowl of crab soup at this very modest food stall on the street, right next to a construction site. (Pretty sure crab soup is not sold as street food in Hanoi). This bowl, full of crab meat, sweet corn, quail eggs, pork bone, with quẩy (fried breadstick) served alongside, tasted so good and you know how much we paid for 2 bowls plus 2 big quẩy? 30,000 VND (less than $1.5). Crazyyyy!!
Ram cuốn cải
Ram is the Central version of spring rolls, and in this small shop at the end of an alley, is served with mustard greens (cải cay), lettuce, fish mint, coriander, basil, cucumber slices, green papaya and carrot strips, a small bowl of dipping sauce, and of course, sheets of rice wrapping paper for you to perform the whole wrap-and-roll ritual. To me, the dish wasn’t very special, but the crispness of ram combined with all the fresh veggies balancing the fattiness of deep-fried food made it quite fun and enjoyable. I liked the idea of rolling the rolls one more time as well, haha. The portion as in the photo was enough for two of us, and guess what, it cost only 25,000 (a little more than $1). John kept asking me “Are you serious? THAT cheap?” Lol.
Bánh tráng cuốn thịt heo
The signature dish of Đà Nẵng is actually very simple: sliced boiled pork, served with assorted greens and herbs, and a special dipping sauce called “mắm nêm“. Take a rice wrapping paper, put it atop the thick rice flour sheets (look like phở before it’s cut into strips) so one of the sheets will stick to the rice paper, put the veggies and pork on top before rolling and dipping it into the thick mắm nêm sauce. Take a bite and enjoy a blast of flavors from your neatly rolled food.
Trying to eat like locals, we stopped at the food court in Cồn Market, filled with aromatic food, and ordered two portions of bánh tráng cuốn thịt heo and two mugs of ambarella-pineapple mixed juice from a lovely woman’s drinks stall. I just had a small problem with the strong smell from the sauce, while John didn’t. He enjoyed everything. Weird…
Bún chả cá
Noodles again! But this time, it’s for seafood lovers. Added into my bowl, other than chả cá (fish milled, kneaded into small cakes, then steamed or fried), was a small chunk of tuna and chả cua (steamed crab meat). Toss in some vegetables, add a little homemade chili sauce or a few red pepper slices, scoop some pickled purple onions from the small jar on the table, or just simply squeeze some lime in, and wohoo, it’s readyyyy. The broth tasted like there was quite an amount of sugar in it, but I loved it anyway!
The name “Quảng noodles” originated from Quảng Nam province, but the dish has so many variations across Central Vietnam. We had our mỳ Quảng from another food stall in Cồn Market, and there were various ingredients for you to choose. I love the presentation of the dish, with meat (chicken, pork, or beef) on top of a bed of flat wide noodles (there was even one spring roll in my bowl), together with hard-boiled eggs, crushed roasted peanuts, and vegetables including lettuce, sliced banana flowers and herbs. Some cracked sesame rice crackers are also added. Just don’t forget to well mix the contents in the bowl before eating, because there’s a shallow pool of flavorful broth at the bottom of the bowl and you won’t want to miss a chance to wet your noodles with it.
Bánh bèo ướt
This is the Đà Nẵng version of bánh bèo – a typical dish in the cuisine of Huế, the ancient capital of Vietnam. We arrived early enough (many food shops/stalls in Đà Nẵng only open in the morning until 9-10 am, or from 4 or 5 pm till late evening) to have two plates full of bánh bèo, topped with dried shrimp floss, thick slices of fermented pork rolls, ground beef rolls (chả bò), and prawn crackers. The sauce, made with fish sauce, vinegar, chili peppers and crush garlic, is generously poured over the plate. And with a bunch of greens served alongside, mmmmm.
Bánh xèo, nem lụi
Awwww, the perfect couple: crispy rice flour pancake filled with beef, shrimps, bean sprouts (John called it “Vietnamese tacos”, haha) and lemongrass pork skewers on a charcoal grill. I’ve eaten bánh xèo nem lụi so many times before, but really, the ones we had in a small shop in another narrow alley in Da Nang satisfied my taste buds so much that I really doubt I can get my craving fixed anywhere in Hanoi from now on. One specialty here is the thick dipping sauce made with ground pork liver and peanuts, and of course, their special recipe. I want another mouthful!!!
Bánh tráng nướng nhân nhồi
This is just a snack we had after dinner on a street near the Museum of Cham Sculpture. Rice papers are filled with either liver pate, quail eggs, or beef jerky, wrapped and folded and grilled until they become crispy. Partly because we were already pretty full, we didn’t find this snack very special, but their creativity is worth a try anyway.
You probably noticed all the dishes mentioned in this blog post are street food. I always try to eat like a local wherever I go, and that’s my advice for you, too: Hit the streets! Restaurants aren’t necessarily the best eateries in town, especially in Vietnam. Btw, don’t worry about food safety too much. My non-Vietnamese boyfriend enjoyed every dish till the last bit, and he (and his stomach) survived, haha.
See you soon in my next post about the beautiful Hội An (and it will be more than just food)! 😉