Da Nang Food Tour – A Highlight of my visit to Da Nang…
One of the highlights of my visit to Da Nang was being asked to join a few other friends and go on a walking food tour of Da Nang. What better way to be introduced to new cultural cuisine!
Da Nang Food Tour is a small operation with a big presence! It is run by Shaun Stevens, a United States ex-pat who has been living in Vietnam for five years. According to him, he has learned enough Vietnamese to get by although to us he sounded as though he were quite fluent! On our tour we were delighted to not only be accompanied by Shaun but also by his lovely girlfriend, Elin.
Shaun started his food tour business because, as he says, he had been on enough bad food tours that he knew what was needed was a small, up close and personal, experience for people interested in Vietnamese food. Usually, because many of the places he takes visitors are mostly frequented by local residents, he will limit the size of the group to four. For us because our time in Da Nang was so limited, he made an exception and increased the size to six. He is also willing to customize your tour to accommodate food requests – vegetarian, no pork, food allergies and so on.
We had chosen the morning food tour and set out from the hotel around 8 in the morning. Getting there was easy enough simply by having the Bellman at the Hyatt inform our taxi driver of the address. We literally met on a corner near the beach promenade. As the day was sunny and bright, all of us ‘foreigners’ (người ngoại quốc – which sounds a little like ‘new nwook why’) were dressed in light-weight clothes when up walks Shaun sporting a sweater, down jacket and a scarf. He commented that, for Vietnam, the weather was a bit chilly. I think it was around 68 degrees at 8:30 am.
We set off, walking and chatting, towards our first stop of the day, Ming Trangh located at 14, Le Thanh Ton Street . The restaurant was quite small and the cooking was done in a small corner in the front of the restaurant. Here we had what I would call the equivalent of breakfast steak and eggs – in Vietnamese, Bò né – beef hot plate (literally ‘avoid the beef’). The dish set before us arrived on a sizzling plate and included thinly sliced beef, beef meatballs, onions and an egg topped with a sweet chili sauce and sliced tomato. It was served with a side plate of sliced cucumber and lettuce and a lovely crusty French baguette.
After this incredibly filling breakfast, we headed off to Han Market which was built in the 1940’s during the French occupancy of Vietnam. Before you even enter the market, you will pass quite a few individuals selling their wares on the street… those not lucky enough to get a stall in the 28,000 square meter enclosed market. You will find a variety of goods at Han Market – fresh vegetables and fruits, fish, vats of various kinds of fish sauce, freshly killed and skinned frogs – clothing and shoes, cloth, tailors, and even tourist tchotchke – you can find just about anything! (Be aware that sizes run very, very small!)
We started off in the fruit and vegetable area of the market which was very busy with buying and selling. As we walked through and gawked at the fruit, we, in turn, were gawked at by the Vietnamese as they offered us samples. Many of the fruits were easily recognizable, however, we all were treated for the first time to Jackfruit, or Mít. A popular fruit in Vietnam, Jackfruit can be found anywhere from Northern to Southern Vietnam, growing both in the city and country side. Very large in size, its skin is covered in thorns like the durian but the flesh is divided into smaller yellow pouches. It’s texture, depending on the age of the fruit, was similar to that of dried apricot or soft and custard-like. The taste was surprisingly sweet (thank goodness it didn’t taste or smell like a durian!).
Leaving the colorful fruit stalls, we began to make our way to the food court area of the market. To do so, it was necessary to walk through the meat and fish stalls. There is quite a distinctive aroma when it comes to fish just off the boat, freshly killed and skinned frogs, pigs feet and other delicacies involving animals.
It was with great relief that we eventually entered the food court and stopped for a cool drink made with fresh fruits and served over ice. I chose to have a salted lemonade (Chanh muối) – Shaun explained that it is made from lemons pickled in brine which are then muddled until the juices run freely.
The juice is then mixed with sugar and either plain water or sparkling water. It was incredibly salty-sweet delicious! I wish I had gotten two! I’ve since found a recipe for salted lemons and hope to try my hand at making Chanh muối.
After leaving the market we headed to Bà Ngọc Huế (228 Đống Đa Street) to try Bánh xèo or crispy pancakes. The pancakes were crispy but not overdone and reminded me of a sort of fried omlette. They were served with pork sticks and a plate of lettuce and other vegetables. The dipping sauce was a peanut sauce mixed with caramalized onions and was really quite delicious. There was so much food brought out to us, we could barely finish!
The total for all of this incredible food at Bà Ngọc Huế? 652,000 Dong or about $30.00 – for eight people!
To round out the day and finish our tour we walked a few blocks to the Aquarium Coffee shop for a quick pick me up coffee before heading our separate ways. Vietnamese coffee is unlike anything I have ever tasted. Vietnam is the second largest producer of coffee beans in the world behind Brazil. True Vietnamese coffee is a very thick bittersweet concoction and is typically served with a large dollop of sweetened condensed milk. I think it must be an acquired taste – although I didn’t mind the coffee itself (I settled for a plain espresso) – topping it off with sweetened milk was just a bit much for my taste. The coffee is also generally served over ice, which may make it a bit more palatable. At any rate, you should definitely be trying the coffee when you are in Vietnam.
I honestly had the best time on this food tour and think it may be something I add to future trip itineraries. What made this tour so much better than I could have imagined was the fact that it is lead by an American ex-pat who happens to live in Da Nang. The cost of $45.00 is quite reasonable and as you visit the various restaurants, food markets, or coffee shops, Shaun picks up the tab as it is included in the price of the tour. He and Elin were wonderfully patient, taking the time to explain the food, explain the customs, and share their lives in Vietnam with us. The booking process is simple and Shaun will stay in contact with you concerning the details of your tour.
Da Nang Food Tour is highly recommended.