Da Nang has long been missed off Vietnam’s well-trodden tourist trail. Those that do visit tend only to stop by for a day, spending their time basking on the city’s famous beach before moving on to nearby historic sights such as My Son.
And that's understandable: from the outside, Da Nang looks like any other growing modern city, all shiny office blocks and newly built hotels. But once you look past the swish high rises you’ll find a warren of back streets bursting with tantalising street-food stalls and local haunts untainted by mass-market influence. Here’s why Da Nang should be on every foodie’s bucket list:
Da Nang has grown rapidly in recent years – but it's still far less touristed than Vietnam’s older cities. This also means it's less westernised than elsewhere in the country.
For the foodie, this amounts to plenty of authentic, local cuisine to taste. Here, street vendors peddling tasty, inexpensive meals rule the roads, each specialising in one or two signature dishes. Unsurprisingly, this also means that Da Nang is a very cheap city to eat out in – most on-the-go food is under $1, so there’s nothing to stop you trying it all.
Central Vietnam is fiercely proud of its cuisine – and Da Nang is no exception. Interestingly, the food here hasn’t yet penetrated into western culture in the way that the saltier Hoi An specialities or sweet Ho Chi Minh City dishes have.
The city’s most famous – and most popular – dish is Mi Quang. It’s a classic Vietnamese noodle soup with a twist: the base is made from bone broth and fish sauce, to which turmeric is added (turning the rice noodles yellow), along with fresh vegetables and shallots. Sprinkled on the top, you'll usually find shrimps, boiled eggs and pork (or you may have the opportunity to add eel). Basil, coriander and other herbs are added to create the characteristic fragrant freshness Vietnamese food is famous for.
Behind Han Market, wind your way back from the river during the day and you’ll come to a quiet street that seems all but deserted save for a few white signs proclaiming in red, blue and green: ““PHO”, “NEM LUI” and “BO KEP LA LOT”, or the occasional chair left outside a closed café.
Come again at night and you’ll find the road crammed with motorbikes, awnings opened, shops lit up and the sound of people enjoying their evening meal. At the end of the road, a tall red arch proclaims the name of the street – this is Pham Hong Thai, and it’s where locals come for Da Nang’s best night-time street food.
Colourful bags of spices, tropical fruits piled high, tumbling towers of garlic and shallots, stacks of fresh herbs and fresh meat: Vietnam’s markets are a sensory overload. Da Nang’s Con Market is no different. It’s a great place to stop off if you plan to do some home cooking, or to find foodie souvenirs (take a bag of dried shrimps home to use in soups or stir-fries).
And then, of course, there’s the food stands. Con Market is a fantastic place for a snack, with lines of benches in between the stalls offering fresh home cooking. There won’t be any signs in English and service is likely to be brusque, so this is where to go for a really authentic experience.
At sunset on Non Nuoc Beach, you’ll notice men in conical hats heading out into the water casting wide nets out to sea. Others may be setting traditional woven bamboo basket boats onto the waves.
Ideally located right on the waterfront, Da Nang is the perfect place to try Vietnamese seafood dishes. Many of the city’s specialities are fish-based and it’s a safe bet at any restaurant. Go for bun cha ca, a fishcake noodle soup that is one of the most popular eats.
Vietnamese food is fragrant, flavoursome and hugely varied. But, if you do get bored of noodle soups and rice dishes, Da Nang also has a number of worthwhile international restaurants to try.
One of the best is Happy Heart Café, where you’ll find delicious vegetarian food, fry-ups, desserts and even Mexican cuisine – try the generous tacos or Happy Heart pizza. Most of the staff are deaf or handicapped, giving opportunities to people with disabilities, and the US ambassador to Vietnam even visited this year.
As Da Nang grows as a destination, it's starting to attract some of the world's best chefs to its hotels and restaurants.
Just 20 minutes from the city centre, the stunning InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort already boasts Michelin-starred French chef Pierre Gagnaire. The hotel restaurant, La Maison 1888, which serves a fusion of French and Vietnamese cooking such as lobster with green shiso or a coconut milk tiramisu, is the perfect place to splash out.