Nha Trang’s main draw is arguably its pristine white sandy beaches that you will find many sun bathing enthusiast frequent, but for me it was always to taste the local food. It’s here that you can have some of the most unique and frankly quite delicious meals on your travel through the country. Whether you’ve arrived by plane, train or automobile it is a stop on the map I insist you treat yourself to! Of course remember to space 20 minutes between meal and swimming.
My top 5 must eat dishes if you find yourself coming through Nha Trang:
Hands down my favorite thing to eat while in Vietnam was always nem nuong. But what is it you ask? Essentially it’s Vietnamese grilled pork sausage that can be served either as a snack or wholly on its own, like you see here. Nem nuong is usually accompanied with rice paper (to roll), vegetables (fresh and pickled), and a side of fish sauce for dipping once all assembled together, or not (your choice entirely!)
I searched far and wide in Nha Trang to find the place that served the best nem nuong and I think I’ve found the one! A good sign is always having tables of locals chowing down at half past noon with a plethora of empty Bia Saigon bottles – I was in the right place.
A serving this can prove to be a lot for one person, but I was determined to finish off my plate clean after having walked so far to enjoy it! The taste of the grilled sausage mated with the crispy fried rice paper and paired with the fresh greens all rolled up and then dunked into that ever sweet, spicy and pungent takes me back to summer days with the family. The taste is very light on the palette, fish sauce and all, and never leaves you feeling heavy, groggy or with food coma post consumption. That’s the beauty of Vietnamese cuisine – it can be light BUT full body in flavor.
If someone ever asked me what the cuisine in Vietnam’s central/southern region is like I would happily refer them to just eat a roll or two of these bad boys.
Nem nướng Đặng Văn Quyên
16A Lãn Ông, Xương Huân, Thành phố Nha Trang, Khánh Hòa 650000, Vietnam
Banh Canh Cha Ca
This dish can be found ALL OVER the city of Nha Trang so any place you find yourself you can bet will be good. But always look for a line, it’s a good sign. On one evening I found a woman and her husband working their bun cha ca cart and figured my appetite needed to be quelled once smelling the fish broth in the air. This is Vietnamese fried fish (cha ca) noodle soup, but in this edition the noodles are more udon like in shape and texture than the thin rice vermicelli normally accustomed to light soup broth bases.
Served in a porcelain bowl accompanied by the aforementioned fried fish cake and noodles you can also find fried shallots and onions atop a crisp and light broth. Base on a fish stock the dish is on the lighter side while providing some refreshing aroma and taste to your nose and tongue. The banh canh is softer, thicker, and shorter than other noodles used in dishes throughout the nation, but here it works well to balance out both the broth and fish. Need some spice? There’s plenty on the table to go at it until your heart’s content!
Cheap, quick, and above all delicious – how food in Vietnam is meant to be had.
In an alley but look for the little red tables and stools. Hard to miss.
48 Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai, Tân Lập, Thành phố Nha Trang, Khánh Hòa 650000, Vietnam
Not to be confused with banh canh above – banh can is an entirely different animal, something both new visually and to my taste buds. They’re circular in shape, fried in nature, and topped with a variety of different meats (beef, octopus, or shrimp as I got below) that can feed a small army. I mean LOOK AT THOSE SHRIMPS – so plump, juicy, and generous. A bowl of soup broth with some meatballs floating around, slices of apples to cleanse the palette in-between bites, and of course a HEAPING HELPING OF CHILIS & PEPPERS accompanies it.
They fry a batter mixture in an almost tako-yaki style griddle until the edges are perfectly brown and crisp before adding your topping of choice to finish off. Let me be the first to tell you each piece carried some hefty weight to it! The first bite I tried to sever the shrimp away as neatly as possible but that proved to be against me entirely. It was tough to eat an entire piece whole but if you manage this feat you have my respect.
How does it taste? Amazing! Like a seafood puff pastry that came directly out of the ocean, probably due to humungous size of the shrimps used here. It was all manner of crispy, warm, soft and chewy in one bite. The meatball broth was a great addition to sip on post bites, even better after each chili pepper I would consume. For being my first introduction to this dish I couldn’t wait to get my hands on more.
You bet I finished off the entire plate – peppers and all!
Head to this location and you will see all the locals on stools enjoying their dish.
51 Tô Hiến Thành Tân Lập Thành phố Nha Trang Khánh Hòa 650000 Vietnam
Bun Cha Sua
Another one of the must try dishes in Nha Trang will surely be their jellyfish noodle soup. Yes you read right, jellyfish. Go figure given the pristine coastline that the city sits on making getting any type of seafood an easy task. Definitely not for the squeamish, but if you’re adventure eater then this is right up your alley.
A typical bowl will be comprised of jellyfish, fried fish cake, and thin rice noodle (vermicelli) swimming in an aromatic fish broth. If you’re really feeling extra fancy some places will add in pork, crabmeat or meatballs to the party. All topped with fresh greens and as always a side of chili.
I know what you’re all thinking: what does jellyfish taste like you ask? The outside has a surprising crunch to it while the inside remains soft, gooey like. One of the more tasteless animals I had the chance to try so often you would it jellyfish with a fermented fish sauce of sorts. Yum! In this dish the jellyfish adds a very nice textured feel in your mouth in comparison to the noodles softness. Add in that broth and man you have a winner.
Bun Ca Nguyen Loan
123 Ngô Gia Tự, Phước Tiến, Thành phố Nha Trang, Khánh Hòa 650000, Vietnam
Banh Xeo Muc
I love banh xeo (known as Vietnamese pizza/pancakes/crepes) and I love octopus so never in my wildest dreams would I’ve put the two together. But in Nha Trang dreams really do come true! Banh xeo is already one of Vietnam’s more iconic dishes only to be made better by tossing in a couple of plump, succulent octopuses, plucked from the ocean just feet away.
After finding one I deem worthy of filling my belly I put in an order immediately. A few minutes post ordering I can see my plate being carried over by the waiter, mouth salivating the entire time. Before my eyes I saw the ever familiar golden pizza shaped batter fried to crispy perfection with the edges burnt like momma used to make em. Sitting atop this was a plethora of beansprouts, onions, and of course bite size morsels of octopus. They were really tiny sacks of heaven at this point.
I teared through the banh xeo wasting no time ferrying the first bite to my mouth. PERFECT. I didn’t even stop to think about anything else as I dipped my second piece into the chili fish sauce and planted it in my mouth, smiling ear to ear. The fish sauce really sets off the plate here in my opinion. It provided that ever longing spice I search for with the right amounts of fermented fish taste. Both adding to the octopus’s distinct flavor profile.
Of course as with banh xeo you have the regular accoutrement of leafy greens, hey we’re all about eating healthy am I right? Traditionally you would take a lettuce, the size of your hand, and top it with the banh xeo and then dip everything into the fish sauce. Or break it up into bits and put over some vermicelli noodles via bowl and voila! The octopus tasted as if prepared by my father when I was a kid. Boiled to doneness and grilled to finish, simple methods but new ways to enjoy. Man I love this country.
Banh Xeo Chao 85
85 Tô Hiến Thành, Tân Lập, Thành phố Nha Trang, Khánh Hòa 650000, Vietnam