Danang: A food tour report
Guest post by Anna and Greg
The evening before we got to Danang, I was excited to find the blog Danang Cuisine, written by two Danang sisters. It had a couple dozen reviews of small eateries in town, most complete with Google map pins, street addresses and what time of the day to go. So in between some surfing and a lot of walking, we tried to hit as many as we could. As promised to Uyen and Helen, here is our food tour report.
1) Finding places – Easy for places listed in Danang Cuisine, with all the information in posts. There was only street stall (grilled bananas with coconut milk) we couldn’t find, possibly because she had already sold out for the day or was closed for the New Year. We also found some great places, just by looking for full tables, grounds covered in napkins, etc (a sign of previous eaters), and tasty looking dishes being served.
2) Gettting around – This was by far the easiest of cities to get around to food spots. We chose a hotel downtown in the city (food) core, and found the city quite walkable, other than a small scare with a motorbike coming at us in the dark with no lights, and the next day being hit by a bike. Just a pedal bike though, and he was going too slowly at that point to knock into me with much force. Walking also helped us feel ok about all the calories we were consuming in between.
3) Stomach size – You might look at the days below and wonder how we managed to get it all in. The walking helped (~10-12k a day), as did mornings that generally started early, before 7am. We also did our usual technique in unfamiliar eating situations, which is to order one dish to share. It gets us weird looks for sure, especially at noodle eateries where everyone else has their own bowls, but it means we can try more dishes. And if something is that good for both of us, we just order more. More meals take less than 2 minutes from sitting down to arriving. That’s fast food. Also, portion sizes in Vietnam are generally much smaller than in Canada.
4) Ordering – Vietnam is the first country we’ve travelled in that uses letters we can recognize. To make things even easier, dishes sold are labelled at each food stall or restaurant. This makes ordering fairly easy, as we know what’s being sold (I did some prereading on wikipedia of what different dishes are). If it was a place we were led to by Danang Cusine, we could also show them a screenshot of the picture. Or just point to whatever was bubbling away in the pot at the streetside.
* = Danang Cuisine recommendation
Beefsteak and egg with baguette* – A recommendation from Danang Cuisine that came personally! We had emailed Uyen and Helen on the off chance that they would be in town and not too busy with new years festivities. We heard back right away, and agreed to meet the next morning for breakfast. We had a great morning with Uyen, Helen who was back from Germany for Tet, and a couple of their friends in town. The beef was delicious, the egg perfectly cooked and the baguettes great to sop up all the tasty sauce. But the real highlight was getting to meet up and hang out with Uyen, Helen and their friends.
Fermented black rice with yogurt and ice* – On our second last day, we made our way to the train station to buy tickets, stopping to get this. The owner’s sister came and sat with us, and we got to ask her about how they make the fermented rice (Emily – we thought of you and that you’d probably love to try this!) and how Vietnamese yogurt is made (hint: condensed milk). At one point, we mentioned we had read about the place on a blog. Oh the excitement! She was over the moon, got her sister to come out and see it, friends came over to see, her husband was emailed. They couldn’t quite get over their restaurant being on the internet, complete with pictures and a glowing description. It was a pretty lovely moment to be part of.
Sinh to* – Chunks of dragon fruit, jack fruit, strawberry, avocado, mangosteen, melon with milk, condensed milk, crushed ice and amazing sweet coconut chips. We had this three times. The first time was a struggle to order and convey that we didn’t want it blended. The second time and third time, we just sat down and two glasses of this would show up. Being a regular came extremely fast in Danang – if we went back to a place twice, they would immediately bring out what we had ordered the time before (e.g. one bowl only, milk coffee for me, black coffee for Greg, etc) no ordering necessary, or possible.
Banh Canh Ca Loc – After having read the article about snakehead fish in Burnaby Lake, we were a bit hesitant to eat this fish-with-crawling-and-possible-animal-eating abilities, but it turned out to be a great meaty, mild fish that we both enjoyed. The broth in this soup was deliciously seafood-y without being heavy, and fresh noodles were cut and boiled for each bowl of soup. The whole process of noodle rolling, cutting and cooking was all being done at the sidewalk, and that, along with the delicious smelling cauldrons of broth, large bowls of oily fish and full tables, is what caught our eyes and drew us in.
Goi bo kho* – Our first Danang Cusine recommendation. A beef jerky and green papaya salad – a sweet sour dressing, chewy jerky and great heat. We also had the red bean che, which was a glass full of sweetened red beans, topped with coconut milk, peanuts and ice. It was refreshing but I can’t quite get into beans as a dessert.
Banh Mi Ga* – Banh mi with shredded chicken meat, homemade mayo, cucumber, pickled veg, hot sauce. The first time we went, the stall shown on the blog wasn’t there, so we settled on another in the same location but found it to be a bit pricy and skimpy on the toppings. The next day we passed by again, and saw the recommended stall. Her banh mi was much better – thick with toppings – and stuck on the grill to warm up. At almost half the price of the first, we went back several times!
Mi Quang – We had this local speciality – a rich, oily broth with fresh lasagna-textured noodles, flavourful and delicious but bony chicken, and a massive crunchy rice cracker – our first night. Another day, we ventured a bit further to find one of the recommended places on the blog*, and found it even more delicious: lighter broth, pillowy noodles and a slightly sweet cracker made me happy, and Greg enjoyed the pork and shrimp topping.
Banh Xeo* – a crispy fried pancake, made from turmeric, coconut milk and rice flour, folded over bean sprouts, shrimp and pork. Served with a variety of side dishes: you wrap chunks of the pancake in fresh, chewy, salty rice paper (that has no relation to the stiff rice papers we use in Canada!), throw in some fresh herbs and greens, and dip into a warm gingery gravy. They also have pork sausage that are wrapped around chopsticks, and grilled, and can be pulled off to stick in the wrap as well. We had this twice in Danang – the first we were waved in by a very friendly woman cooking on the sidewalk, the second came recommended by Danang Cuisine. The gravy was definitely better at the latter, but I loved the chewy fried pancakes at the first, even more than the lacy, crispy version at the Danang Cuisine recommendation. Either way, this was definitely one of my favourite meals in Vietnam!
Cold veg rice meal bummer* – The only real dud on all the places we went in Danang. The cooked vegetables were a mix of cold and warm, and it was a bit greasy and tasteless. Oh well.
Bun cha ca – A fish cake noodle soup. Various spicy fish balls, lipton-chicken-noodle-soup shaped long rice noodles, sweet but light tomato bamboo pineapple broth with chunk of pumpkin and peppery fish cakes. Yum. The places recommended by Danang Cuisine were both closed or out of soup the first time, so we went two doors down. We got one bowl, then quickly ordered another, and went back for two more. Another favourite.
Coffee at middle school traffic bar* – Loved this place which was recommended by a guest poster on Danang Cuisine – their mom! We sat at a small table on the sidewalk, watching the pick ups and drop offs at the middle school across the street, drinking extremely sweet, tasty and strong iced coffees. We went back a third time to get coffees to go on our way to the train station. The owner was happy to pose for a picture, and was telling all her customers we were from Canada (she had had another customer ask us the first time).
Shrimp dumplings and green bean dumplings* Tapioca dough around a savoury green bean paste or whole shrimp complete with shell. A very, very chewy dough with an extremely sweet sauce, it wasn’t our favourite.
Coconut jelly with coffee syrup and coconut milk*. At the same place as the dumplings above. The jelly was delicious but even better was the company. Two women in their early 20s helped us order, and then a few seconds later, came over with their food and asked if they could join us. We ended up chatting with them for awhile about school, the new year and food, and then they walked us a few minutes down the road to a restaurant they had recommended. They even insisted on paying for our coffee jelly!
Fried chicken with tomato fried rice* – Delicious, not at all greasy, fried chicken, with a red stir-fried rice (tomato? chili?) full of bits of crunchy rice. Served with crunchy fresh veg to offset all the grease. We shared plates of this two nights in a row. This place had clearly expanded, buying up stores on either side and across the street – and was producing a large number of plates for people to eat at the sidewalk tables or motorbike away.
Tamarind crab – Delicious fresh crab in a rich sauce. We were only slightly ashamed when the woman selling beer came to crack it for us after we sat there wondering how to get started. As we finished, a Vietnamese-American home to Vietnam for the New Year sat down beside us, bought us a beer and then sat chatting. People are friendly in Danang!