Da Nang has been one of my favorite places for food in Vietnam. The food is varied with more complex flavors and less fish-sauce-based than Southern Vietnamese cuisine. Da Nang wasn’t in our original plans as we were researching a beach town in Vietnam, but we met a Couch Surfer in Saigon who suggested that we go to Da Nang instead of Nha Trang or Mui Ne. We’re so glad she pointed us to this city because if there’s one thing we’re good at, it’s eating. The second thing we’re pretty damn good at is lazily lounging on a tropical beach all day. I’ll talk more about that in another post.
Seafood: Da Nang is a beach town which means you can get ridiculously fresh seafood and since it’s Vietnam you can get the ridiculously fresh seafood at ridiculously cheap prices. Seafood restaurants line the street across from beach and they are packed every night. These are your typical no-frills Vietnamese eateries with little plastic chairs and stainless steel tables, but the simply-prepared seafood is better than anything you’d pay 10x more for anywhere else. There are also large, well-lit, banquet-sized restaurants that serve seafood dishes for a higher price tag, but we didn’t try those places.
Mì Quảng: This noodle dish is a specialty of the Quang Nam province; the province that Da Nang belonged to until 1997 when it became an independent municipality. I’ll store that bit of trivia under my “interesting, but useless” file. You should too. All you need to know is that these noodles are delicious and if you don’t know anyone from Central Vietnam then you’ve probably never tried this dish. Traditionally, this dish is made with rice noodles that are tinted yellow with turmeric, but the mì Quảng that we had only used white noodles. Our Da Nang friend told us that people were concerned about unscrupulous noodle makers not using turmeric for the coloring so the customers prefer the unadulterated white noodles now. In addition to the noodles, a bowl of mì Quảng consists of mint or basil, Vietnamese coriander, thinly sliced bamboo flower, crushed peanuts, toasted sesame crackers, half of a hard-boiled egg, and your choice of shrimp or chicken. They might have other proteins too, but we only saw the chicken and/or shrimp combo. Unlike other noodle soup dishes, like pho and bun bo hue, mì Quảng uses a very intensely flavored broth so they don’t fill the bowl with that rich broth. You get about one ladle-full to wet the noodles. Squirt a bit of Vietnamese lime in, mix it all up, and you’re good to go. I hope I can find this dish after I leave Vietnam. It’s a perfect meal for those scorching days in Central Vietnam when you can’t bear to eat a piping hot broth-filled bowl of noodles. You can get this dish on almost every block in Da Nang. Try them all.
Bún chả cá: Asians love their noodles! This dish comes with fried fish cakes as the main protein ingredient. The greens are the same as you would have for any other Vietnamese noodle dish. The broth is rich and flavorful with a red-chili color similar to bun bo hue. I liked this noodle dish, but it’s not one of my favorites.
Where to get bun cha ca: 109 Nguyen Chi Thanh Street
Oc hut: “Snail suck” that’s the literal translation of oc hut. It doesn’t sound that appetizing, but trust me, you haven’t lived until you’ve sucked some Da Nang snails. We saw this dish for sale at food carts all over town and even traveling food vendors were touting them on their portable loud speakers. On our last night in Da Nang, Nha and Hai took us to a popular oc hut place that we would’ve never gone to on our own. There were only locals there and they were all eating oc hut and a type of mango that you dip in chili salt. Oc hut is prepared with lemongrass and chili and topped with shredded green papaya so it’s a tad spicy, but not eyeball-bleeding, fire-shits spicy. You can get a mix of snail sizes, ranging from dime-sized to quarter-sized. The smaller ones are meant to be sucked out of their shells using only your lips and your willpower, but be careful to hold on tight to the shell lest you suck the entire thing down your throat and choke to death. I almost did that. I wonder if that’s normal or if I’m just not good at sucking snails. Either way, it’s delicious. Go try it.
Banh trang: This is another Vietnamese dish that I’ve never had before and I feel like the last 38 years of my life have been a lie. It’s rice paper with different toppings, pate and quail eggs for example, grilled over an open fire. We had this with our Da Nang buddies at what looked like the foyer of someone’s house. It was quite tasty and I can’t believe I’ve never had rice paper prepared in this manner before. I’m pretty sure I won’t find this dish outside of Vietnam. More reason for me to move here.
Banh cuon: Another Vietnamese noodle dish with fish sauce. It’s fresh rice noodles, mint and basil, dried shallots, and as fish sauce as you like. You can also order a slab of fried pork roll on the side. It’s good for a light lunch, but if you have a big appetite you’ll need to get more food elsewhere.
Where to get banh cuon: 190 Tran Phu Street
Chè: No, I’m not talking about the Marxist revolutionary. I’m talking about my favorite topic in the world, dessert. Chè is not specific to Da Nang and there are so many varieties of it that you could probably eat chè every day for a year and not have the same one twice. But the reason that I mention it as a must-eat in Da Nang is because I had a chè here that was absolutely fantastic. Our CS friend, Nha, recommended it and this girl knows her chè. The mixed chè that I ordered had peanuts, some sort of soft beans, mung bean paste, some sort of jelly, and shaved ice. Nevermind that we saw them shaving a huge block of ice on the floor in the back of the kitchen. I didn’t get sick from the chè and it was so good that I’d risk a little e. coli or whatever other disease you get from dirty ice.
Where to get che: Quán Chè Xuân Trang, 31 Le Duan Street
Coconut jelly: You can find this refreshing and delicious dessert anywhere, but the best one that we had was on Bach Dang street. Our friend in Da Nang took us here one night after dinner. Earlier that day we had tried a coconut jelly at another spot and we weren’t impressed. We weren’t too excited when she suggested this dessert that evening, but we decided to trust our local host’s judgment. It was excellent! The top was a rich coconut cream and the bottom jelly part had an intense coconut flavor. It also came with a small glass of coconut juice. We paid 30,000 VND per coconut that night. Two days later Kanako and I stopped by for an afternoon snack and after eating our coconuts the lady charged us 35,000 VND each. I reminded her that the other day the price was 5,000 VND less. She said the price of coconuts went up, so it’s 35,000 VND now. That was a bit annoying, but it really was the best coconut jelly.
Where to get coconut jelly: 214 Bach Dang Street
Frozen yogurt: I’m not sure if this is a Da Nang specialty, but since we had it here for the first time I feel like I should mention it. It’s fantastic! From what I gather, you just sit down and the owner dumps a pile of frozen yogurt containers at your table and you pay for whatever you eat. You also get a jar of greyish dipping salt — Vietnamese people love dipping their food in sauces — and you just sprinkle some of that salt on your frozen treat and go to town. It’s so good and since it’s yogurt I’m assuming it’s healthy. That’s a totally unscientific assumption, but I wouldn’t give a shit even it wasn’t healthy. It’s so damn good. Our Da Nang friends treated me for my birthday dessert. I’m so lucky.
Where to get frozen yogurt: 02 Phan Thanh Street
There’s one last dish that’s very famous that I didn’t mention because we didn’t get a chance to try it. It’s called bun mam, a popular noodle dish using a very pungent shrimp paste sauce that only a brave few can handle. Since I didn’t have it I’ll definitely have to go back to Da Nang. Oh, woe is me!