[Nha Trang, Vietnam] Food Report from the Scorching Southeastern Coast

To be honest, I was not looking forward to visiting Nha Trang. I’ve been up and down the length of the country a few times and spent a few months in the major cities (Hanoi/Saigon) and noted culinary capital (Hue) and from what little I knew of Nha Trang I expected a sun-blasted tourist hellhole.

I was right. But also wrong.

Nha Trang is in the midst of a building boom: the backpackers have fled and even the Russian package tour groups are being pushed out by higher-end Korean tourists and resorts. If you’re in the ‘tourist core’ it’s an unending, deafening sound of hammers and metal saws. After two nights near the beach at the Intercontinental we got the hell out and went and lived like the locals in a nice Airbnb well away from tourist chaos.

The good news is that if you are willing to walk a few streets back from the beach–and away from the drunk Russians–a new city emerges, one whose food is as delicious, varied, and affordable as anywhere I’ve been in Vietnam. Pair that with little-to-no pollution, honest-to-god traffic lights that people sometimes obey, a laid back vibe, and near perfect weather (300 days of intense sun a year) and I could easily see myself living here for a few months a year.

In my limited conversations with locals, I’m given to understand that, like Las Vegas or Macao, Vietnamese move to Nha Trang from all over the country to work in the resorts and tourist trade. Many bring foods from their hometown, and some even open restaurants to serve them. It’s hard to know for sure, but I do think there is a much wider range per capita of Vietnamese food here than Hanoi or Hue, and is on par with Saigon (even though this is a city of under 500,000 people).

Here are a few good spots and dishes. I didn’t do much research. The Foody.vn app has reviews in Vietnamese with a numberscore (like Tablelog in Japan or Mangoplate in Korea). Even if you can’t read the review you can trust the numberscore. The Vietnamese take their meals seriously. Normally, I’d just walk out in the mornings and go somewhere busy with locals. Similarly at night. There are definitely plenty of high-end places (mostly hotel restaurants) serving sanitized Vietnamese dishes to terrified Russians and Koreans, but this is country built on street-food and modest one-dish mom-and-pops, so it seems silly to recommend any of those if you come here. Easy to find on your own!

I am also leaving out the diacritics in the dish and restaurant names because I’m an American philistine with a dodgy keyboard.

Street Duck at 79 Duong Lin

The marshes around Nha Trang are famous for their duck. Good quality street-grilled or steamed duck or half-duck with large herbal and shredded daikon salads. I opted for the BBQ duck which has a fascinating sweet/fermented crab glaze. It’s chewy: the skin is not crisp like Chinese duck, more like BBQ chicken from the deep American South. Eat with your hands. Pair each bite with the thinly sliced, unripe banana. Wrap and dip in nem nuong sauce, a mixture of pineapple, carrot, fish sauce, carrot. Side of duck blood chao (like congee). 135-250k dong.

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Breakfast Pho Bo Options
Best places are closed by 10:30 am.

They all have their little quirks. Some with more star anise in the broth. Some with better quality noodles. Some tasted ‘cleaner’ than others. These are all within an easy walk from the main tourist areas.

Quan Pho Hong

I prefered this place to the others for the lightness of the broth and the large container of pickled garlic on the table. Filled with older women, eating in groups which always take as a great sign in Asia. Ate 15 times over 3 weeks and never tired of it. Choose a large or small bowl. 45-55k dong.

Hanh Phuc Noodles

Possibly more geared to tourists but still excellent. There’s a window up front where the fresh noodles are constantly prepared and dried on bamboo racks. Quality of noodles is very high. You’re also given a longer selection of beef cuts for the dish. I always go for the chewy, fatty cuts. Broth had bit more of a northern taste to my uninformed palette: cinnamon and anise.

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Pho Ko Gia Lai

New to me: a ‘dry’ chicken pho with broth served on the side. Same traditional accompaniments, but a nice change to eat the cooling noodles and herbs with toothsome chicken bites (and pieces of rendered pork fat) while you are waiting for the pho ga broth to cool off. Interesting to have chicken broth with large pieces of beef. I really enjoyed it. Wife looked around the room and thought it might be a ‘guy’ thing. Only men eating there, perhaps due to the three types of flesh in one dish!

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Banh Beo Be Tu

Banh Beo is a must-try snack from Hue. Tiny steamed cups filled with a rice-flour/tapioca-flour dough. Topped with a really savory dried-shrimp powder–normally this tastes like fish food to me, but there was a persistent depth of shrimpy flavor that was a really nice counterpoint to the shredded papaya topping. I ate 20 of them. Top each with a spoonful of the sauce on the side and slurp down.

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Quán Bún Thịt Nướng 163

Bun Thit Nuong, or BTN, is a staple of the expat-quarters of Saigon and a favorite gateway dish to Southern Vietnamese cooking. Or it was for me, at least. Surprisingly tough to find in Nha Trang; had to do a bit of searching on Foody.vn to find the best example. This was worth it. Succulent grilled pork. All the typical trimmings.

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Nem Nuong

Saved the best for last. This is a speciality of the province. A pork sausage (20% fat) mixed with a proprietary range of ingredients: shallots, crab, dried shrimp, tamarind, etc. Served, again, with a proprietary dipping sauce–different wherever you go. A base of pineapple or carrot, fish sauce, chili, garlic. HIghlight of the trip. Wife ate, I swear, 40 of them over the space of a few meals. I think it’s the correlation to her beloved ssam…the recommended place is at an intersection with multiple versions of the dish.

No good photos as I was eating instead of snapping, but this sums it up.

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Totally agree, I have used it a lot when travelling in Pho Quoc in HCMC nearly 2 years ago, the higher noted ones were always busy and with good food, very different from the propositions from “foodie blogs” which we had tried, and found them stale or outdated. With google translate, you get a rough idea of the review.

10 years ago, we passed by Nha Trang when we went to Hoi An and Hué, but didn’t stop. Good to know that there are still some interesting places.

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Glad to hear you’ve had a similar experience with foody.vn, @naf

I’d rec heading back to Nha Trang if you also want some beach time. Bring a hat though…

Found a great piece on local food. Going to add this to the thread for the next time I am back.