Exploring Vietnam: Why Da Nang Stinks - Life-changing Banh Beo (Steamed Rice Cakes) + The Con Market (Chợ Cồn)

Most tourists visit Da Nang to lay out on the beach along the coast. I wanted to explore the food, so we stayed in the city center where no tourists were in sight. Da Nang is a big city to explore (it's Vietnam's third largest city) and our visit was very short, so there were many parts we were not exposed to.

I explored most of Da Nang solo because Patrick was still suffering from food poisoning from Hoi An. For having no sense of direction, I think I did quite well by not getting lost. 

Initially, I noticed a lot of locals hanging out at coffee shops and shopping at modern boutiques, mostly catered to the younger generation. There are tons of mobile phone and motorcycle shops at almost every corner. With the exception of a couple of Buddhist temples, I was bored out of my mind and found the city culture to be quite sterile and bland. It wasn't until I stumbled upon a heavily populated outdoor market that my experience turned into an exciting one. 

The Con Market (Chợ Cồn)

A friend recently told me a very dirty joke that is too inappropriate to share here (message me if you really want to know), but the hidden meaning behind the joke is when you smell something unpleasantly fishy, you know you're in Da Nang. Once I entered the market, my sense of smell was punched by the aroma of fermented fish called mam, a specialty in this area of Vietnam. Bun mam, anyone? There was no escaping it, but I didn't mind because it's a smell that I am familiar with being surrounded by Vietnamese food all my life. 

This market had no tourists in sight and not a word of English spoken. Even with a camera around my neck, I blended in with the locals, which is a good thing because I get charged "local" prices. It was so busy and crowded that no one noticed me taking photos of everything in sight - including them.  

You'll find almost anything here from vegetables to housewares to wholesale clothing. I was really impressed by the vast range of specialty food options and the plethora of fresh seafood and meats available at the Con Market. You can get every form of offal butchered in front of you. 

Con Market - Da Nang Vietnam Experience - Bites & Bourbon
Con Market - Da Nang Vietnam Experience - Bites & Bourbon

The Con Market's Food Hall

I was in paradise the moment I discovered the food hall.  There's a lot of options to choose from and each spot was filled with happy eaters. I struggled a bit on where to start, but luckily I was able to get by with my limited reading capabilities.  

You can see that the seats are counter-style, surrounding the stalls. If a place is full, it's likely that a seat will open up quickly because Vietnamese people eat efficiently with little to no room for chit-chat. I know this from first-hand experience and through observation. 

The food hall is not an attractive place to eat, but I didn't mind and thought it was quite charming. When the food is in front of my face, I could care less about what my surroundings look like. 

The Life-changing BANH BEO

Banh beo is one of my favorite Central Vietnamese dishes. I grew up making and eating banh beo a lot with my mom, so when I found this place I immediately took a seat and told the sweet owner to give me the special plate. 

For only 20,000 VND ($1), I was able to get not only banh beo, but a whole lot of other things that were on my Da Nang's "have to eat" list. Let me break this incredible dish down for you:

  1. Banh beo - small steamed rice cakes with a dimple inside, filled with savory ingredients including dried shrimp, scallions, crispy fried shallots, fish sauce, and oil.
  2. Banh bot loc - transparent dumplings filled with shrimp and pork belly - my absolute favorite Vietnamese dumpling. 
  3. Banh uot - thin pancake wrapper consisting of rice noodle sheets. 
  4. Cha heo - pork patty (similar to what you'd get in a banh mi).
  5. Nem chua - a sweet, sour, salty and spicy fermented pork sausage

[Click Photos to Enlarge]

Seriously. All of this for only $1?! This dish alone made the entire Da Nang visit worth it. If you ever find yourself at the Con Market, be sure to visit Thu Ha at Lô 23/Đình 15A - Chợ Cồn. It is truly life changing. 

VIETNAM TRIP 2014 RECAP: UP NEXT

In the next post about Vietnam, I'm going to share our day trip experience to Ha Long Bay. 

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Goodbye, Hapa Ramen - Review (San Francisco)

Hapa Ramen Review - SF

What is Hapa Ramen without a @linecook? It was recently announced on 3/28 that Richie Nakano, chef and founder of Hapa Ramen, has been fired and is no longer with the company. A day after the announcement, Nakano tweets that many cooks, servers and bartenders from Hapa were also out of work. On 3/30, the entire website was taken downThe future of what's to come for Hapa Ramen is unclear, however articles citing the owners indicate that a new vision is in the works. 

Regardless of what really happened or who said what, it's sad news to hear and impacts all of the people who have been rooting for Hapa Ramen and Richie Nakano's success. It's only been four months since Hapa Ramen opened up for business in the Mission and it's already gone. Inside Scoop SF has all the details you need to know about what went down. 

I have many fond memories of Hapa Ramen. In September 2010, Patrick and I went on a date to one of Hapa Ramen's early pop-ups at Bar Tartine, where we had our very first fight; I always look back at our fights and laugh about them. We've been rooting for Nakano and Hapa Ramen since and it's really just unfortunate how things turn out sometimes. 

A couple of months ago, I went to dinner at Hapa Ramen's Mission location with my friends Ben of Focus:Snap:Eat, Sandy of Foodhoe and Christina of East Bay Dish. The restaurant had soul, delicious food and awesome music. At the time of dinner, I remember chatting with Christina about how proud we both were of Nakano's accomplishments.  

This review doesn't really matter anymore given the change of direction for the restaurant, but here's a look at the dishes we tried during Nakano's reign. 

Hapa Ramen Review - SF

The bar had an impressive spirits collection with a heavy emphasis on Japanese whiskey. 

Hapa Ramen Review - SF

The kitchen in action. 

Hapa Ramen Review - SF

A selection of Polynesian-style cocktails were available, created by Justin Lew and Ian Scalzo, veterens of Future Bars Co. (Bourbon & BranchRickhouse). The tasty cocktails left a lasting impression on me; flavorful and refreshing with a generous amount of alcohol to get you feeling good. 

Hapa Ramen Review - SF

Six Pork Dumplings in Warm Sanbaizu & Spicy Oil

The pork dumplings are small in size with a remarkably delicate skin, served in a Japanese seasoned vinegar sauce with spicy oil. 

Hapa Ramen Review - SF

Buttermilk Fried Chicken Steamed Buns

I fell in love with the buttermilk fried chicken steamed buns, served with bread and butter pickles and hot sauce. The chicken was moist and crispy. The buns were incredibly soft and pillow-like. I could easily eat a plate of these alone. 

Hapa Ramen Review - SF

General Tso's Beef Cheeks, Crispy Pig Ears, Oyster Mushrooms & Tender Kale

The tender beef cheeks and crispy pig ears were tossed in a sauce that resembled something we've all tasted before at a regular Chinese restaurant. The flavor profiles were on the vinegary and acidic side, maybe a shaoxing wine based sauce is my best guess. 

Hapa Ramen Review - SF

Lightly Cured Kanpachi

My favorite dish of the evening - thick slices of gorgeously marbled fish served with various rich seafood components: chilled dungeness crab, uni sauce, trout roe and a umami crisp. How can you go wrong?

Hapa Ramen Review - SF

Shaved Brussels Sprouts, Cara Cara, Smoked Enoki, Egg Yolk & Sherry Vinaigrette

A vegetable dish that's hard to resist - bright, acidic, and satisfying. 

"Tonkotsu" Chicken Ramen

[Featured Photo] A rich and clean ramen broth consisting of a chicken thigh grilled over embers, hon shimeji (mushrooms) and thin yuzu noodles that added a bright citrus note to the bowl. Hapa's chicken ramen is not typically what I would personally go for when I am craving for ramen, but it was comforting and delicious. 

Hapa Ramen Review - SF

Crisp Pineapple Cake & Teriyaki Pineapple Sorbet

We ended our meal with the only dessert option on the menu. An extremely dense, rich and buttery pineapple cake dressed in a teriyaki-like sauce that reminds me of a burnt caramel. You get sweet, bitter, and a taste of refreshing pineapple sorbet all in one bite. I wasn't feeling the bitterness of the teriyaki sauce and could have easily enjoyed the cake and sorbet alone. 

Goodbye, Hapa Ramen.

Hapa Ramen SF on Urbanspoon

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El Pípila's Authentic Guanajuatan Food at The Hall on Market Street + Launch Party & Food Recap (San Francisco)

I was introduced to El Pípila, a catering company that serves authentic Guanajuatan food, for the first time last year at La Cocina's San Francisco Street Food Festival Media Preview. I fell in love with Guadalupe Guerreros' cactus sopes after my first bite. I've been a fan since and was thrilled to hear that El Pípila was opening up at The Hall on 1028 Market Street. If you haven't visited The Hall yet, you're in for a treat. A step inside reveals a comfort food paradise with delicious and affordable food options that will keep you returning week after week.

El Pípila's preview launch party was last Sunday, a day before the official opening, and I attended with my friend Sandy who writes Foodhoe. We had a wonderful time stuffing our faces with some of the best sopes, enchiladas, guacamole and salsa we've ever had. Guadalupe also invited Aztec dancers to "bless" her plates and that was fun to watch while we sipped on wonderfully refreshing housemade piña agua frescas. It was a cheerful celebration with many heartfelt moments. 

El Pipila SF - The Hall

Michelle Fernandez of La Cocina says, "Guadalupe's Guanajuatan recipes are inspired by her hometown of Acámbaro and her mother. The space at The Hall will give her an opportunity to serve her smoky tomatillo, chicken, and bacon pozole verde, her sopes topped with nopales and picadillo, as well as introduce some new items like tacos de carnitas, enchiladas, tostadas, and even a sope salad. Plus, she gets to share her Guanajuatan food 7 days a week."

EL PÍPILA'S STORY - THE LONG JOURNEY

Guadalupe poses with her daughter, Brenda. Guadalupe relies heavily on her two daughters for marketing support and responding to catering requests and applications in English.

"When I was working at the taqueria I was supporting my kids. Now that I own my business, I'm working with my kids (Brenda and Alejandra). They're my friends and my business partners and I'm growing this business for them."

It's been a long journey for Guadalupe Guerrero, chef and owner, of El Pípila.  Can you imagine leaving behind your two daughters and your entire life in Acámbaro, Mexico in hopes of finding work and a better life to provide for your family?  In 1998 Guadalupe ventured off alone to the Bay Area without any knowledge of English and worked 12 hour days, 6 days a week for twelve years at a taqueria in Berkeley. In two years, she was able to earn enough money to send for her children and bring them into the states. 

In 2005, she met Alicia Villanueva of Alicia’s Tamales los Mayas, who told Guadalupe about La Cocina. After several years of working for someone else, Guadalupe decided it was time to pursue her dream of opening up her own food business. 

Guadalupe started off with nothing and built her business from the ground up with the help of Women’s Initiative and La Cocina, a non-profit food business incubator that provides affordable commercial kitchen space and technical assistance to low-income and immigrant entrepreneurs who are starting, launching or growing food businesses. 

"It's hard to think that when I arrived in the U.S. all those years ago I had nothing. I had a hard time believing that I would ever own my own business, much less open a spot where people can come everyday to try my sopes and pozole using my mother’s recipes. It's a dream."

Guadalupe's food embodies her strength, passion and devotion. Her food is packed with bold flavors and spices that is sure to transport you to Mexico.

EL PÍPILA'S LAUNCH PARTY AND fOOD RECAP

El Pipila SF - The Hall

Guadalupe's family, friends and supporters came out to celebrate the opening of El Pípila at The Hall. When you combine delicious food with people who love to eat, things can't possibly go wrong. 

El Pipila SF - The Hall

Holy enchiladas! I've never been a huge fan of enchiladas until now. Each tortilla is filled with shredded chicken and the sauce is made with sauteed onions, tomatillos and cilantro. It was incredibly flavorful; I am completely hooked. 

El Pipila SF - The Hall

These mini tostadas were very addicting, topped with shredded stewed chicken. 

El Pipila SF - The Hall

It's so hard to nail down a favorite dish from El Pípila, but if I had to choose it would be the nopales sopes, which are savory corn cakes topped with a cactus salad with chile negro and tomatillo. The thick corn cakes are really nice and the nopales is like a cross between okra and green beans. Very scrumptious!

El Pipila SF - The Hall Pozole

Pozole is a very popular stew in Mexico. This smokey bacon-chicken-tomatillo pozole recipe belongs to Guadalupe's mother. It's rich, flavorful and super comforting. I loved the intensity of oregano in each bite. I'm personally not a fan of white meat, but aside from that this pozole rocks. 

We ended our feast with cucumbers, jicama, and watermelon skewers sprinked with chili powder. 

We were mesmerized by the energetic Aztec dancers' outfits, feather hairdresses and dance moves! It was beautiful to watch them bless the place and pay respects to the Ohlone people and mother earth. 

Thanks so much for having us, La Cocina and El Pípila! I look forward to eating more Guanajuatan food and seeing your continued success.


VISITING EL PÍPILA at The Hall

Location

1028 Market St. San Francisco, CA 94102

Website

www.elpipila.com

El Pipila SF Menu - The Hall SF

Phone

510-684-9456 

Hours

  • Monday - Friday: 11am - 8pm

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