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.
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:
- 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.
- Banh bot loc - transparent dumplings filled with shrimp and pork belly - my absolute favorite Vietnamese dumpling.
- Banh uot - thin pancake wrapper consisting of rice noodle sheets.
- Cha heo - pork patty (similar to what you'd get in a banh mi).
- 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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