This city is my perfect definition of beauty; gentle, unglamourous yet never fails to mystify and charm its visitors.
On the last couple days of our trip, we decided to split from the adults to explore on our own. My cousin who lives in the area took us on a food tour around Đà Nẵng and Hội An. We ate at some of the most local, authentic restaurants possible and of course, I am sharing all of those gems with you below. A lot of these foods are dear to my heart as they are the foods of my childhood. I hope you will seek them out to experience how amazing they are for yourself. Enjoy!
Fish cake vermicelli soup. One of the most popular breakfast foods in Đà Nẵng. It has 3 different kinds of fish cake: steamed, fried and boiled fish cakes. It is served with pickled shallots, pickled carrots, fresh herbs and bean sprouts. This dish, in my opinion, knocks your typical bowl of phở on its face. This place is quite popular and was already jam packed in the early morning but service was remarkably fast and friendly.
Steamed rice cake. The rice cake is stuffed with ground pork and minced woodear mushroom, served with Vietnamese ham (chả lụa), pickled green papaya, fish sauce and fresh herbs. The unique thing about this restaurant is you get to see how they make the rice cake in front of you. And it is made to order so freshness is guaranteed.
This dish and Mì Quảng are my favorite foods. Ever! It has roasted pork belly, over a bed of vermicelli, fresh herbs and is generously drizzled with mắm nêm. Mắm nêm is a sauce made of fermented fish. Unlike the more familiar nước mắm, mắm nêm is powerfully pungent and more similar to shrimp paste. You will either love it or hate it! Either way it will change you forever. The sauce is typically diluted with very ripe pineapple to cut through the saltiness. This restaurant is my family’s favorite and we have been going here for as long as I could remember. I seriously love this dish with all my heart!
Agar Agar Coconut Jello. This restaurant was featured in the 3rd episode of our Vietnam series but I have decided to include it here to tie it in with the list of restaurants in Đà Nẵng. It is an agar agar based jello made with coconut milk and coconut water. I love how they actually make their jello in fresh young coconut. This little cafe is also conveniently located right across from the Hàn River!
After busting our guts in Đà Nẵng, we headed over to Hội An. Hội An is one of the most renowned and visited city in Vietnam. The city is known for its historical architecture and well preserved culture. Walking around town is like traveling back in time to see how Vietnam was hundreds of years ago. Hội An in the morning is calm, serene and beautifully nostalgic. Hội An at night lights up with beautiful lanterns, the city’s trademark, and is bursting with life.
We were there during the Lantern Festival where it’s a tradition to set floating lanterns into the river as a form of prayer. These lanterns not only represent our prayers but it signifies setting free the trapped souls of those who have already passed on. To see the river illuminated with speckles of lights and knowing what they represent was magical beyond words.
Walking around town you can find street food at every corner. They have everything from grilled pork skewers, fried shrimp cake, pressed cassava, red bean ice cream, fresh durian, grilled corn and many more.
Mì Cao Lầu
This dish is the essence of Hội An in a bowl. It is the perfect combination of chewy noodle, barbequed pork, sweet soy sauce and fresh crunchy herbs. It is definitely a texture play! All of the components blend perfectly well together to make this a harmonious dish. Unfortunately, the place that we went to doesn’t have a name (what is up with Vietnamese people and not naming their restaurants).
This is a cozy restaurant that sits about 20 people max and is known for their chicken and rice. What makes this place unique is that they utilized every part of the chicken. In one course, you will get to sample everything from the chicken meat, eggs and organs. Even the rice was made from the same broth that the chicken was boiled in, which definitely contributed to its fragrant and buttery texture.
Your trip will not be complete without trying this locally famous herbal iced tea. The tea is a blend of several ancient herbs served over ice and garnished with a lotus petal. It is simply beautiful and refreshing. Keep your eyes peeled though, this tiny stall is easily missed on the busy streets of Hội An.
I’ve always loved Hội An for everything it represents. The beauty in the way it is preserved, the way that the people hold on to the traditions and maintain it until this very day. This city is my perfect definition of beauty; gentle, unglamourous yet never fails to mystify and charm its visitors.
Vietnam has always been kind to me. Perhaps for a child who has always been far from home, home is a place of absolute warmth. But being away from home is like watching a movie in fast forward. Each visit is a pause, always long enough to be happy about seeing my loved ones but gone just as quick to remind me of reality. With each visit, it etches in my mind how grown up my siblings have become and how I’ve never gotten to see it happen. Enough to see the deepened wrinkles on my parents’ face. Enough to wish I could have held onto the past just a little bit longer. But as those new buildings go up, I feel my simplest, most treasured memories slipping away. To make way for the new billboards, fast food chains and way of life. I can’t help but feel conflicted.
But Vietnam is forever growing and changing. Mostly for the better, I would argue, and I couldn’t be prouder and happier for my little country.