26.5.17

Danang Street Food

Da Nang street food is notably different from Hanoi's street food, and has its own distinct identity. It's right in the middle of Vietnam, and next to the sea, so its cuisine draws influence from the Imperial cuisine of nearby Hue, the sea-moderated tropical climate, and its history of being the R&R of many an American GI. Think lots of seafood, and Vietnamese-styled American fare like pizza.

Unlike Hanoi which has the Old Quarter (where you find a concentration of the most amazing street food), street food in Danang is comparatively spread out. It's practically hiking if you plan to get from one street food stall to the next, so your best bet is to get with a food tour. We did 3 different food tours in 2 days, and would totally recommend Danang Foodie.

Book a private one and get the one on a motorbike. You ride pillion and experience first-hand the life of a typical resident. Many of their guides are local university students, and give an honest insight to the real Da Nang. We were brought around by 2 of the bubbliest and sweetest kids, and we chatted and laughed up a storm, all the while stuffing our faces. It was akin to having local friends bring you around their hometown. Now, that's what I call an authentic experience. 

Quang Noodles (My Quang)

Quang noodles, or Mi Quang, are a big big thing in Da Nang, frequently eaten for lunch. Because Da Nang has got a tropical climate, their noodles are seldom soupy. Quang noodles are lightly slicked in a brown meat broth seasoned with fish sauce, rich in flavour so a little goes a long way.

Toppings run the gamut from seafood like shrimp and fish, to meat like grilled pork ribs and the exotic like jellyfish, eel, and frogs' legs. The Hubs had the Quang Noodles with Beef (VND25,000) which was full-bodied but a lot chewy.

The Mi Quang with Chicken (VND25,000), marinated in tumeric for added aroma, was better. The rice flour noodles, unevenly cut, was like a cross between the handmade texture of Chinese la mian, and the clear neutral flavour of a thicker kway teow.

As with any Vietnamese eatery, a heaping plate of vegetables ride-along every dish. Here, banana blossoms, lettuce and baby mustard leaves, together with chilli pepper-oil emulsion, and fresh green chillis, add oomph.

The restaurant.

My Quang & Bánh Tráng Thịt Heo Đại Lộc
19 Trần Bình Trọng, Hải Châu 2, Hải Châu
Đà Nẵng, Vietnam
Tel: 09850 00 075
Open daily from 6am to 10pm
==============================================================


Vietnamese Pizza (Banh Trang Nuong)

Vietnamese pizza is a lot more delicate than the western concept of pizza. Resembling a thin pancake, a thin, dry rice paper is used as a base to stuff various meat, usually minced, and oodles of fried onions, before being toasted over an open fire, instead of being baked in an oven. This, by far, is my favourite Da Nang street food.

The Bahn Trang Cac Loai Kho Pate (VND12,000) was a rolled pizza (can we even call this a Vietnamese calzone?) lined with pate and lashings of fried shallots. So so good.

This heart-stoppingly delicious open pizza was topped with beaten quails' eggs and golden shallots (VND$12,000).

To cut through the grease and richness of the pizzas, the Fresh Green Mango sprinkled with bits of fried shredded beef jerky and fish sauce, Xoai Ruoc (VND20,000), was a piquant, tangy refresher.

The intrepid little cafe.

I love how most eateries have a little tv in their dining halls. Also note the typical dwarfed seating, with the smallest stools for sitting.


Quan Bánh Tráng Kẹp Dì Hoa
62/2A Núi Thành, Quận Hải Châu,
Đà Nẵng, Vietnam
==============================================================



Vietnamese Pancake (Bánh xèo)

When I first saw Banh Xeo (VND36,000), I thought it was 2 separate dishes, one skewered grilled meat like satay and the other, an eggy omelette pancake. Turns out, both are merely components of one full dish. Its transliteration is "sizzling cake".

The crepe-like tumeric-yellow rice pancake was crisped over hot coals in a skillet, and stuffed with beansprouts, fatty pork belly slivers, spring onions and fried baby shrimp.

These skewers were pork based, hand-chopped and laced with herbs and spices. Like the yellow pancake, eat them on their own or make like a Vietnamese:- swaddle them, with as much fresh vegetables, raw garlic, fresh chilli of the red or green variety, cut soursop, julienned carrots, and additional beansprouts, into a rice paper roll. Dip it all into a pork liver-pate-peanut sauce, and voila, you're Vietnamese.

I found that beef wasn't done very well in Central Vietnam, as it tends towards the gamey. Pork and shrimp are more abundant in Da Nang so best stick to those proteins when ordering food. The Sesame Lemongrass Beef with Betel (VND70,000), or bò nướng lá lốt, was nicely seasoned, but the numb bite of the betel leaves couldn't mask how gamey it was.

The restaurant is accessible through a tiny alley and this small opening. Like I always say about Vietnam, you really have to be skinny to get around coz all their walkways and eateries are so cramped.



Bánh Xèo Miền Trung
280/14 Hoàng Diệu, Quận Hải Châu, Đà Nẵng, Vietnam
Tel: +84 511 3871 446 / 0918 020 010
Open daily from 4pm to 10pm
==============================================================


Banh Xeo

I think I preferred the Bahn Xeo at (VND6,000) this stall, mostly because their liver-pate-peanut sauce was more balanced, displaying a little more restrain with the chicken liver flavour.

The skewers here were smokier, and I think it edged the one at the other stall out.

The shrimp on the pancakes were fatter, but the pancake was thicker, and eggier.

Cooking over the hot coals in old metal drums.

The eatery facade for reference.


Hà Điệp - Bánh Xèo & Nem Lụi
302 Phạm Cự Lượng, Quận Sơn Trà, Đà Nẵng
Open daily from 3pm to 10pm
==============================================================


Bánh Mì Que

This is the little sister to banh mi, the Banh My Que (VND12,000):- a miniature baguette buttered with sweet Thai-style chilli sauce, pork floss, julienned carrots and pate, and then toasted to bring it all together.

I loved it. It's a brilliant street snack, easy to eat while walking around, a riot of the crisp and refreshing and sweet and savoury flavours.

The shop front for reference.

Banh My Que / Banh Mi Que
Dat hang xin goi
ngon mieng - ve sinh
Tel: +0167 737 54 58 / 0934 770 362
Open daily from 2pm to 8pm
==============================================================



Bánh Mì

And no visit to Vietnam is complete without a taste of their classic Banh My. This French-inspired sandwich may not have originated in Da Nang, but hawkers serving this tasty snack are everywhere, and it's widely beloved. Here in this stall, they make their own baguette, and the smell of freshly baked bread was intoxicating af. (VND7,000)

My version was, of course, sans cilantro, but I asked for extra portions of their pork sausage and pork belly, the latter made in-house, and liberally schmered with pate. So so so good!!

The shop front for reference.


Bà Lan - Bánh Mì Thịt Chả
62 Trưng Nữ Vương, Quận Hải Châu, Đà Nẵng, Vietnam
Open daily from 9am to 11pm; 4pm to 9pm
Tel: 0935 646 286

==============================================================


Gỏi cá lạc

Goi Ca Lac (VND70,000) was another unique dish we discovered in Danang. It's like ceviche, with raw fish cured in ginger, chilli, corn, and then finished with a flurry of crushed peanuts.

The raw fish salad took a little getting used to. It was pungent and robust in flavour, and aroma. That was made even more pronounced by the sauce, chicken liver blended with fish water and sesame seeds.

We needed A LOT of fresh mint, perilla and lettuce to balance out the rice paper roll.

The dining hall was airy and windy.

It's annexed to the living quarters of the restaurant owners.

Gỏi Cá Bà Mỳ
11 Mai Lão Bạng, P. Thuận Phước, Quận Hải Châu, Đà Nẵng
Tel: 0511 3894 576
Open daily from 3pm to 11pm
==============================================================


This reminded us of SG's chut chut, but fried with lemongrass and chilli. It was a pain to pick the meat out, but that was pretty gratifying when we got them all out.

The shop for reference. 



==============================================================


Grilled Chicken Wings

Okay, now I know we actually have this in SG, Grilled Chicken wings (VND5,000), Vietnamese-style with the addition of Thai basil, fresh cucumbers and a plum salted soy-green chilli dip.

Also, we had their local beer, Larue, which also looked a lot like our Tiger Beer. Notwithstanding the similarity, the beer was pretty awesome, light, refreshing and balanced.

barbecuing

The shop front, you see a lot of customers waiting to take away their satays and chicken wings.

Hai Còi - Chân Gà Nướng
Lô 2 Nguyễn Văn Thoại (Đối diện 35 Nguyễn Văn Thoại), Quận Ngũ Hành Sơn, Đà Nẵng
Open daily from 3pm to 10.30pm
==============================================================


Da Nang
Vietnam

24.5.17

Open Farm Community

Work has been absolutely bonkers of late, so I passed over the gym, and went out for lunch with a bunch of my colleagues instead. I was in need of comforting (through my stomach of course), and also wanted to unload. So we drove out of the city to the lush green of the Dempsey Hills. To Open Farm Community which, imo, is one of the best restaurants in Dempsey.

I've only ever been to OFC for dinners, so it was nice to sample a different menu for lunch, by way of a decidedly modest set lunch menu. It rotates every few months for variety, and is unbelievably value-for-money. A 2-course set is priced at $35, while a 3-course is only $42.

A main option from the set lunch menu, the Pumpkin Agnolotti ($35 with the calamansi dessert) was mellow and nuanced in its sweetness. Enlivened with a herbaceous majoram & burnt butter vinaigrette, the kale puree lent a grassy bitter accent, while a sprinkle of gremolata crumble and garden sprouts provided texture.

The Coconut Laksa Barramundi ($30) was sided by a mildly spicy tumeric potato cake, crisp-fried beancurd skin, and poached baby boy choy. They've updated the style of this dish, with different accompaniments, and are now more generous with that luscious laksa sauce. Me likey! Me likey very very much!

The Roasted Red Snapper ($32) set atop a lively calamansi & sesame cucumber salad, squid ink barley, and flavoured with a garden roselle & hibiscus ketchup, was as disappointingly lackluster as before. The combination of flavours were a-ok, but didn't 'pop', and the skin on the fillet was missing that paper-crisp crackle. I don't know why the restaurant always recommends this dish. It's by far, their weakest link.

A dessert off the set lunch menu, the Calamansi & Bandung ($35 as part of a 2-course set lunch) of a calamansi sponge cake, calamansi cremeux, and bandung gelato was another example of how local flavours can be made modern and elevated to sophisticated restaurant-quality fare with refined plating.

I liked the herby contrast to the deconstructed Lemon Tart ($18) with the sweet basil ice-cream and basil chia seeds.

The Pandan & Banana Custard ($18) given some punch with a ginger biscuit, lemongrass sago, and sugarcane sorbet, was beautifully harmonised. Just don't eat it together with the lemon tart, the flavours clashed wildly.


Open Farm Community
130E Minden Road
Tel: 6474 5964
Open weekdays from 12noon to 10pm;
weekends from 11am to 10pm
Website: www.openfarmcommunity.com

23.5.17

Hotel Sofitel So, Auckland

Opened barely a few months ago earlier in the year, Sofitel So Auckland is the "new kid on the bloc". Just a street behind the Viaduct Harbour foreshore where the ferry terminal is, the neighbourhood is noticeably quieter than the Hilton. Which is the good thing. On the down side, the rooms in this newbie don't have the expansive vantage of the rooms in the Hilton.

Taking over the structure previously run by the Westin group, the building originally housed the New Zealand Reserve Bank. Which probably explains why the hotel is so "inward-looking", and not many of its rooms have sea views. Most overlook the internal water feature, which is meh, or have city views, which is so blah.

By virtue of it being the newest hotel in Auckland, the Sofitel So is currently the prettiest. And also by default, the most luxurious.

The French aesthetic is evident immediately when you walk through the lobby. Swathed in shades of taupe, rich jewel tones and dark wood, the hotel is opulent yet tasteful and elegant.

There's no available parking at the hotel (that I could see anyway), or adjacent to the hotel that's cost-effective, and the space at the drop-off porch is limited, but at least there's the valet option (NZ$45 per day).

Many of the rooms in the hotel face each other, which is as dull a view as it gets. Also, I'd advise drawing the shades if you're the type to traipse around the room in your birthday suit.

The small but functional business centre, just off the main lift lobby access to the rooms, which was very useful when I needed to get urgent work done. The con? There's no privacy at all.

We stayed in the Luxury King Room (rates start at NZ$280), stylishly furnished in restful tones.

The bed was comfortable, and we slept well. The tv was properly large, had complimentary cable, and set up so we could move it to somewhat face the bed, or the couch.

The bed is right next to the bathroom.

Lanvin toiletries, which exclusively supply to the Sofitel chain, and these ones were orange scented.

I liked that the bathroom at the Sofitel is well fitted out, and definitely more luxurious than the Hilton's almost depressing one. For one, the tub was deep and could easily fit the Hubs and I.

The water pressure of the hand shower was ridiculously low, I would have taken a year to wash out the shampoo in my hair. I'm all for the save-water movement, but that was just ludicrous. Use the rainshower instead, the water pressure was much more efficient.

The modest seating area, which was next to the wardrobe and mini bar. Dilmah teas and nespresso capsules were complimentary, as with tea and coffee making facilities, and the standard honour bar snacks and drinks.


Hotel Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour
21 Viaduct Harbour Ave
Auckland 1010
New Zealand
Tel: +64 9 909 9000
Website
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