Exploring Nha Trang’s foodie scene
Finding out that Nha Trang also has a foodie scene is like realizing the prettiest girl in the class is also really smart. Some people just have it all. From beautiful beaches to a cool, laid-back vibe, Nha Trang also delivers big when it comes to good eats.
Nem nuong Ninh Hoa is a delicious twist on the grilled pork kebab. Made from ground pork with an assortment of spices, skewered and grilled, this region’s variation on grilled meat is served still sizzling along with a bevy of condiments all meant to be wrapped up in rice paper. Vietnamese food is all about texture and flavors and this dish hits all the right spots, with crunchy green mango and pickled vegetables, crispy deep-fried rice paper and the tangy sweet dipping sauce which gets its bright orange color from carrots, tomato and pineapple. Portions start at VND30,000 at the communal tables of Nem Nuong Dang Van Quyen (16A Lan Ong Street near Dam Market).
When the afternoon munchies hit, Nha Trang residents know to search out their favorite banh can stand for a quick snack. The beauty is in its simplicity – a batter made from uncooked rice that has been soaked in water before being ground into a paste with a bit of sun-dried then powdered cooked rice. The mixture is poured into tiny clay molds over a brazier and then topped with a filling before being covered until the bottom turns crispy.
The cakes are then topped with a bit of scallion oil before getting dunked into a fish sauce-based dipping sauce with a side of matchstick green mango for tartness. Banh can (not to be confused with banh canh, a noodle soup) can be found all over the city, but the little stand at 51 To Hien Thanh boasts eight different fillings including squid, shrimp, baby clams and quail eggs. Pull up a stool and get one of each for VND55,000.
When most people think of Nha Trang, they tend to think of bountiful seafood. Tourists and locals alike head to a row
of seafood restaurants beyond the Dam Market and over the Tran Phu bridge, across from the beach. Anchored by the popular Muoi Do at 6 Pham Van Dong (literally “Ten Dollars” which is what an average meal will set you back, not including drinks), these joints cook up your live seafood just the way you want, whether stir-fried with tamarind sauce or simply steamed in beer. While there are cheaper areas for seafood, locals say these restaurants have good quality seafood.
For the ultimate seafood meal, those in the know head to the InterContinental Nha Trang (32-34 Tran Phu) on Saturday nights for the seafood BBQ buffet (VND599,000++ per person). “Our prawns and our crabs are live. You normally don’t see that on a buffet,” says Executive Chef Dennis Barton. “The prawns are jumping. The crabs scurry along the ice display. The sea bass comes to us fresh that very morning.”
Australian Chef Barton spent 10 years indulging his passion for Asian cuisine in Thailand, the Philippines and the Maldives before joining the InterContinental Nha Trang for its opening this past March. While the Cookbook Café, the hotel’s main restaurant, includes upscale comfort food like Wagyu beef burgers, Chef Barton’s menu highlights the bounty of the sea which is literally across the street – and the fine produce of Dalat less than 100 miles away (sourcing from the same farm that supplies the beloved Veggy’s). This is one place where you won’t find tinned or frozen crab in the Nha Trang Crab Cakes (VND180,000). Instead, it’s local crab, cooked and handpicked, then mixed with classic ingredients like Tabasco and 24-month aged Parmesan. A balsamic mango salsa introduces an Asian element, and also helps cut through the richness of the dish.
They say breakfast is the most important part of the meal, but at the InterContinental Nha Trang, it very may well be the day’s best meal, featuring 27 hot items, eight European cheeses and 11 individual stations including made-to- order smoothies and juices. “Everything here is made in-house,” says Chef Barton as he surveys the home-cured bacon, the papaya compote with star anise and the six different honeys taken from hives right on site before stopping at the French Pastry station with a delectable assortment of freshly baked danishes, croissants and muffins (including a tasty gluten-free blueberry version).
“I’ve never eaten anything in Vietnam that even comes close to these pastries. It’s because we don’t use regular butter, but a special, super dry butter from France with 92 percent fat content. It costs a fortune, but there’s no comparison between eating one of these and a product made using normal butter.” The size and quality of Chef Barton’s breakfast spread has helped it shoot to the very top of the list of all the 76 InterContinental Hotels in the region. Two other venues serve up Chef Barton’s creations: a daily High Tea in the chic Lobby Bar (notice the subtle “under the sea” design elements in the fish net-inspired metal sculptures and the coracle-shaped seating) and a casual Asian Hawker’s Grill at the poolside Aqualine, with a third à la carte menu available in the Club Lounge on the 18th floor.
With so many culinary choices, from humble to haute, beautiful Nha Trang is sure to feed your stomach as well as your soul.