One of the best things about travelling around Vietnam is that the food is so varied everywhere you go. So when I started planning a Central Vietnam bike tour from Da Nang to Kon Tum, Plei Ku, Buon Ma Thuot, Tuy Hoa and back, I made sure to do a little food research. Here’s what we had along the way:
Specialty: unusual kinds of meat (thịt rừng, literally “forest meat”)
We asked around and found a great shop called Quan 81 on Ure street. They serve all kinds of meat that can be grilled on your table or else prepared in a tasty sauce in the kitchen. We went with the grilled crocodile, some kind of forest mouse in a “fake dog” sauce (don’t ask) and roasted sparrows in a sugar cane glaze. Everything was delicious! I’ll definitely be back next time I’m in the area; considering Kon Tum is a beautiful 300 km drive down the Ho Chi Minh Highway from Da Nang, it might not be long.
Specialty: dry pho (phở khô)
We stopped in Pluiku for lunch on our way down to Buon Ma Thuot and I knew I wanted to get some pho. The Da Nang variety is quite unexceptional, so I was looking forward to a place that claims pho as it’s specialty. Traditionally, pho is a thin, flat noodle about the width of a pencil, but in Pleiku, the pho is so narrow it’s almost round. Ordering it “dry” means the broth comes on the side, which you can spoon into the bowl or dip the noodles into, whatever you like. While I’m still not a huge fan of pho, it was at least fun to try something new, and I’d certainly give it another go.
Buon Ma Thuot
Specialty: rice grilled inside bamboo, grilled chicken, forest vegetable (cơm lam, gà nướng, rau rừng)
My girlfriend, being Taiwanese, is a bit of a rice connoisseur (=snob), so when she heard about this bamboo rice, she was quite keen to try it (“to see if it’s as good as Taiwan’s”). The owner of our hotel gave us directions to what he said was the best place to try the famed bamboo rice. Boy was he right. The “restaurant” was actually a recreation area situated around a lake with various dining huts spread all over. There was even a super sketchy bridge made from a log with half a railing that the staff had to walk across to deliver food. (I got chills of nervous anticipation each time they crossed.) The food was great, and the location was stellar. Definitely the highlight of our Central Vietnam bike tour.
Specialty: banh xeo
Our last stop was the lovely beach town of Tuy Hoa. It’s what I imagine Da Nang was like 15 years ago, with the vast countryside lurking just outside the city limits. While snacking on some grilled meat sticks near the beach, I ran into a lady I had met at a wedding near Tuy Hoa the year before, so of course I asked her where we should go for dinner. She recommended Banh Xeo Dai Nam and it was amazing.
The banh xeo in Tuy Hoa (actually all of Phu Yen Province) is unique in that it’s soft, not crunchy. It can be eaten off a plate with sauce and veggies on top or rolled in rice paper like Da Nang banh xeo. Keep in mind if you’re used to Da Nang style, the rice paper is NOT the same. It’s think, dry sheets that are dipped in water, which means they go from crunchy to soggy in about 2 minutes. Basically, as soon as they bring out the food, you’re racing the clock to roll as many as you can before it gets impossibly hard. I consider myself a pretty competent roller, and I was struggling big time. But we all embraced the challenge and managed to polish off 3 plates, so I guess everyone enjoyed it.
Want to do your own Central Vietnam bike tour? Check out my Multi-Day Food Tour to build a custom trip just for you.