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This is often the first person you meet when you go to a restaurant, and the last person you see when you leave. But this person doesn’t cook, doesn’t wait tables and probably doesn’t speak English. Who is it? It’s the motorbike parking attendant.

Motorbike Attendant – Unsung Heroes of Vietnam

When you go out to eat in Vietnam, chances are, someone will be there to look after your bike. I’ve heard off-hand that this is one of the most popular jobs in Vietnam. Think about it: nearly every restaurant has someone, and they all only work for one place. That means that the place next door also has to hire someone else, and the place next to that too. It’s quite easy to see how this job employs a lot of people.

But who are these guys? What is their job like? To find out, I decided to interview Mr Dũng, who works for Thai Market, next door to where we meet for the Evening Food Tour. I’ve taken the liberty of translating our conversation into English. If you wanna hear the original, I’ve attached the file below.

Meet Chú Dũng

Note: this interview has been edited slightly for ease of reading and clarity.

Shaun: How long have you worked this job? What’s the schedule like?

Dũng: 6 years, all at the Thai Restaurant. 10 hours a day, from 9 am to 2 pm, and from 5 pm to 10 pm.

So in the afternoon you have 3 hours off to eat lunch and take a nap?

Yep.

What about your lunch, does the restaurant provide that?

Yeah they do, 3 meals a day.

Great! How much is your salary per month? (very normal question to ask in Vietnam)

5.5 million

Do you have to wear a uniform every day? Who pays for that?

Yes, every day. The restaurant provides it for us.

Is there anything you don’t like about your job?

Yeah, some of the customers (laughing). Sometimes the younger customers aren’t polite, so I have to teach them.

So do you “talk strong” to them?

No, I just explain to them, for example, the polite way to ask me to move the bike out for them.

What do you like the most about your job?

It’s my life so I like it! Now I’m old so I don’t have to work too hard like the laborers (gestures to the guys building the giant hotel next door).

Do you think you’ll keep working this job? What did you do before? Why did you change?

When they fire me then I’ll stop. Before this I worked in marketing. But the job market wasn’t good, and I’m old now (smiles).

Hey but how come the guy you work with over there is so young?

He’s a student. This is a job for students and old men.

Oh OK. So what exactly are your responsibilities at this job?

We escort customers into and out of the restaurant, arrange the motorbikes, watch their stuff while they’re inside.

What happens if one of bikes goes missing? Is that your fault?

No, it’s the restaurant’s. But I’ve worked in this area a long time, so I know everyone. If I see someone I don’t know, then we notice them.

But have you ever lost a bike?

Nope, never.

What about a helmet? Rain jacket? Anything?

Nope, nothing, never. I’m watching.

Do you take care of this whole street?

No, only one restaurant, the Thai Restaurant. In Vietnam, we aren’t allowed to look after more than one place.

Is there anything else you wanna share about this job that people should know?

Nah, I don’t need to share anything. When someone meets us they can know about us. I don’t want them to say Vietnamese people talk a lot.

“I’m watching”

Test your Vietnamese (and evaluate mine!) by listening to the original interview:

https://danangfoodtour.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Chú-Võ-Văn-Dũng.mp3

The post Motorbike Attendant – Người Giữ Xe appeared first on Da Nang Food Tour.

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Hue is famous for being the pinnacle of ‘traditional’ Vietnamese food. Com hen, bánh khoai and bún bò Huế are among some of the city’s most famous dishes. Hue cuisine is so popular that restaurants specializing in the regional delicacies are often high in demand. Mon Hue, a big-city chain restaurant, has found success with their fast-food approach to Hue food. However, as most Vietnamese people will tell you, the best-tasting Hue food is only found in Hue. If that maxim rings true, then surely the best Huế foods come from their source.

What is Com Hen?

A generous portion of com hen.

Com Hen is arguably Hue’s finest export. Its medley of rich textures and flavours means there’s something to everyone’s liking. The dish’s versatility comes in its unanimous appropriateness; there is never a wrong time to eat it, including breakfast, lunch, dinner or any time in between. Bowls can cost between 10,000VND – 20,000VND. Its economical price allows people to eat as many bowls as they possibly can. Hueians who have left the city for work or study often return home to binge on the hen. One person now living in Danang once told me he would eat five bowls of com hen on returning to Hue.

It’s primary ingredient is hen (baby clams) that are caught off the muddy banks of the rivers and estuaries around the central region. Served on a bed of rice or bun (vermicelli), the dish’s supporting cast include a combination of saints and sinners. Fresh produce consists of starfruit, green mango, banana leaf and a variety of herbs. It’s indulgences are fried pork rind and peanuts. Chili relish, shrimp paste and fish sauce are the garnishes frequently found on the table tops of com hen restaurants. Be warned! These sauces can be challenging for foreign visitors. Ask for ‘com nuoc’ if you want a dish with a soupy warmth or ‘com kho’ if you prefer your dish more akin to a dry summer-salad.

Fried pork rind and fresh chilli. Key players in Team Sinners.

Everyone has their favourite place for com hen. Invite all hen fundamentalists to discuss the dish’s best restaurant and a conclusion is less likely to be reached than the reunification of Korea. Nevertheless, we’ve decided to focus this article on a restaurant where the setting is equally as majestic as the dish itself.

Com Hen Island: Microcosmic Serendipity

Con Hen, meaning baby clam island, is joined by one solitary bridge from Hue’s Vy Da ward. The island’s social-economical make-up mainly comprises of generations’ worth of hen fisheries, farmers and restaurants selling hen related specialties. Hen island is inundated with restaurants selling the same dish. It’s hard to dispute that the home of com hen is anywhere but here.

the bridge to Con Hen.

Com Hen Island’s size makes it ideal for walking around. Traffic is less troublesome than in other parts of the city. While there are plenty of restaurants to choose from, the island’s north side provides a few cafes to spend idling under shade while watching boats pass on the Huong River.

In recent times, Com Hen Island’s inhabitants have been under pressure to relocate as estate agents court hospitality groups to buy the land and develop resorts there. As for now, the island continues to receive a steady flow of Vietnamese tourists who go there to try the famous dish.

It’s hard to pick a definitive com hen restaurant on the island without going through and trying every single one (I will do it! One day!). However, there is one restaurant that domestic tourists and denizens generally favour that has a few additional dishes of note. After speaking with the owner, it was hard not to include her restaurant in the article.

Hoa Dong: Com Hen Restaurant on Con Hen


Situated halfway down the west side of Hen Island is Hoa Dong Restaurant. The owner, Mrs Hoa, serves hen and other Hue-related dishes at a budget price with all the condiments and trimmings. Ingredients are prepared in the back of the building then stored at the restaurant’s front counter where you can watch your meal being put together.

Mrs Hoa of Hoa Dong restaurant.

The đặc biệt (specialty) includes extra large clams for an extra 5,000VND. Other dishes on the menu are hen chao (hen porridge), hen xao (hen salad with cracker), banh beo chen (rice cake topped with prawn and pork rind), cha (fish and pork cakes), nem (cured meat), banh loc (shrimp and pork dumpling) and trung cut (quail eggs).

As always, there’s an assortment of soft drinks and Huda beer available. Most interestingly are two homemade drinks that are slightly harder to come by in Vietnam. Firstly, a personal favourite, ruou nep Hue, a sweet wine made from sticky rice. It’s low in percentage and includes some spongy sweet fermented rice: the perfect afternoon drink on a hot day. Another drink worth investigating is sua dau phong, which translates as peanut milk!

Mrs Hoa of Hoa Dong Restaurant

Hoa Dong restaurant is in it’s third generation of existence. Opened by her grandparents in the 1960s, Hoa has grown up among a community whose livelihood depends on the popularity of com hen. As with most family-owned businesses, there is apprehension as to whether the next generation are willing to continue the family trade.

Hue Taste Max! Ruou nep (sweet rice wine), banh beo chen, banh loc, condiments and sauces.

As I spoke to Mrs Hoa, I couldn’t help but notice the Buddhist swastika tattooed in the centre of her collar bone. She explains that as a child she suffered from continuous head-splitting migraines. A local monk advised that she should have the swastika tattooed to remove the pain. At around 6 or 7, she followed the monk’s advice and the pain ceased.

Com hen has a debatable history. Some say it was once the food of the kings that resided here during the Nguyen Dynasty. Others believe it was the food of the working classes since clams were so widely available. Nevertheless, it’s a food with conflicting histories and enjoyed by the majority of Hue’s population. We asked Mrs Hoa about the origins of Hen in local cuisine but she seemed unsure:

Shop front of Hoa Dong restaurant.

‘I think…a man and a woman were on a boat and landed on the island. Upon liking the island, they began to search for forms of food and came across the clams in the river’s banks.’

Noticing the doubt in our facial expressions, she encouraged us to seek the knowledge of island elders who could give us a better insight.

Consulting the Village Elder

After we left Hoa Dong restaurant, we darted down alleyways in search of a man called Duc, an octogenarian born and raised on the island. It took a lot of hunting but we eventually found Mr Duc taking his post-lunch nap. A lot of the information in the following paragraphs was what Mr Duc told us and while it seems sometimes conflicting, we collated our conversation with other sources in a vain attempt at accurate reporting. God save us.

The mythology of Com Hen Island

Grit Brethren Tai getting the scopp from Con Hen local Mr Duc

Hen Island lies to the east of the citadel. Further up the river sits Da Vien island. During the Nguyen Dynasty, the last reign of Vietnamese emperors, royalty and citadel dwellers believed that the two islands represented a dragon and a tiger. According to ancient the Chinese belief of Feng Shui, these animals embody the polarity of gendered energies. The physical might of the two animals pushing against each other resulted in a stalemate, creating harmony around them. In this case, Con Hen (the dragon) and Con Da Vien (the tiger) represent these forces and provide spiritual prosperity for the citadel which sits between them both.

The river Huong flows either side of Com Hen island

The History of Com Hen Island

The Nguyen Dynasty relocated the country’s capital to Hue around 1802. It’s first emperor, Gia Long, ordered the construction of the Citadel on the grounds of Phu Xuan Village. The villagers were pushed out of the construction’s boundaries. On demanding compensation, Emperor Gia Long offered the villagers some land surrounding the citadel. Some of these villagers made residence upon Com Hen Island and began farming water buffalo there. The island also hosted rituals when livestock was slaughtered for sacrificial offerings to deities.

The Phu Xuan villagers would eventually use the banks of Con Hen for fishing and came upon the benefits of clams as a food source. The alluvial deposits in the island’s banks provided the perfect habitat for shellfish to breed. Given that the villagers were peasantry, they were resourceful in their creation of com hen, using local herbs, fruit and rice leftover from previous meals. Over time, the popularity of com hen spread throughout Hue and eventually across the country.

Com Hen Island Today

Rượu nếp best spring/summer drink for the sweet toothed.

The construction of the nearby Thao Long dam has deprived Con Hen of the brackish waters once used for clam farming. Nowadays, Com Hen Island imports it’s mussels from nearby fisheries. It is also the primary distributor for the city’s hen restaurants. However, the island’s restaurants keep true to com hen’s original recipe. Chefs cook the rice early in the morning to imitate a ‘leftover’ texture. Local herbs and fruits dress the dish which continues to be affordable for everyone in the city.

Where to Eat Com Hen

Hoa Dong restaurant – Com Hen Epicentre
As mentioned above, a popular restaurant for locals and tourists alike. Mrs Hoa is a great host. Some great side dishes on the menu like banh beo and drinks like ruou nep. Always my ‘go to’ when showing friends and family around. Includes English menu.

Open 6:30 – 20:00
64 Kiệt 7 Ưng Bình

Quan Gai – Backpacker’s Reach
Attached to a side of a house. Plastic chairs and tables. Cheap as it gets. Just off the backpacker area and a stone’s throw from Cafe 054 and Thanh Lieu vegetarian restaurant. Good taste and as real as it gets. Plastic roof keeps you safe from the rain.

Open 06:00 – 15:00
53 Nguyen Cong Tru

Quan Nho – Undiscovered Grit Gem
I was really surprised when a visiting friend showed me Quan Nho. Dingy shack with a rapid turnaround of local customers. Many highlights including: a menu with Japanese translations, the ability to eat right up and close with the cooks and a beautiful condiment blend of shrimp and chili paste. Strictly a morning affair.

Open 06:00 – 10:00
28 Pham Hong Thai

Special thanks to Grit brethren Phuoc Tai for taking to time translate some articles and speak to Mr Duc for the purpose of this post.

Have you tried Com Hen yet? Where is your favourite restaurant? Comment below!

The post Com Hen Island in Hue: Majestic Home of Com Hen and Bun Hen appeared first on Da Nang Food Tour.

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I first wrote about Bun Mang Ga back in March 2015, and I’m still a big fan. This time I wanna share a different spot on Hoàng Hoa Thám owned by the lovely Ms Thơ. Bún Măng Gà is more than a sum of its parts: noodles, bamboo and chicken. It’s an amazing noodle soup that can be eaten any time of the day. And yes, this bowl of deliciousness costs a mere 20,000 VND.

Every afternoon, Ms Thơ sets up her cart and gets to work prepping her ingredients. First, she cuts boiled chicken off the bone. Then she starts on the veggies: sliced white onion, diced spring onions & cilantro add a touch of freshness to the broth. A spoon of seasoned oil gives a bit of red color to an otherwise very white and green bowl.

Before you dig in, make sure you add some more goodies. I like to squeeze a wedge of fresh lime into the bowl, and toss in a bit of chili too. The rest of the condiments I usually pass on, but that’s just me.

I love bamboo! It’s definitely Top 3 among “favorite things to eat that I never imagined back in California” along with snails and jackfruit. If you haven’t tried it yet, definitely get yourself some bun mang ga, Da Nang style.

What’s cool about this spot is that your right in the midst of everything. Hoang Hoa Tham is a lively street, especially in the late afternoon. Ordering off the food cart, sitting in the red plastic chair, watching the motorbikes wiz by; this place really captures the street food experience and so much of what makes eating fun in Vietnam. It’s fresh, it’s noisy, and while you’re tucking into a tasty bowl of noodles, life is moving by in front of you.

Try bun mang ga at 126 Hoàng Hoa Thám.

The post Bun Mang Ga Da Nang 2.0 appeared first on Da Nang Food Tour.

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In all the food tours I’ve done, people invariably ask about where to get a good pho in here in Da Nang. I am happy to recommend a great spot. But I always feel compelled to explain that Central people don’t eat much pho, In fact, they don’t seem to care for it much. My customers are always surprised: “If they don’t eat pho, what do they eat?”

The short answer is, “lots of things,” like bún chả cá or bánh xèo. But I today I wanna talk about bun bo Hue, Vietnam’s “other” beef noodle soup. How is it different from pho, you ask? Don’t worry, I made a handy table to compare the two.

Bun Bo vs. Pho
 Bun Bo HuePho
Noodlesround & thinflat & thin
Meatbeef brisket, pork leg, congealed pig's bloodalmost always beef, though sometimes chicken
Brothbeef shank, pork trotters, lemongrasssimmered beef bones, charred ginger, cinnamon, roasted onion, cardamon, star anise
Garnishbasil, bean sprouts, cilantro, sawtooth herb, squeeze of fresh lime, banana blossom, crushed chilibasil, bean sprouts, cilantro, sawtooth herb, squeeze of fresh lime, spring onion, pickled garlic, chili sauce
Eat with (optional)baguettefried breadstick

Now that we’ve established how bun bo and pho are different, let’s get back to the topic at hand: bun bo Hue in Da Nang. Here’s what makes this particular bun bo shop special.

Meat

I like the beef in my bun bo Hue pretty rare and Ba Hich definitely nails it. The beef can get tough if it gets cooked too long. Here, grandma places raw beef in a bowl on top of the bun noodles, and pours boiling broth over the top. 

Veggies

Anyone who eats a lot of bun bo up in Hue will tell you that the the Hue basil has a unique taste. It’s hard to say what it is exactly; it’s just stronger, more floral somehow. Ba Hich orders basil directly from Hue to their shop here in Da Nang. You can definitely taste the difference!

Finished Product

After careful preparation, a very nice young lady delivers this to your table.

The bun bo Hue from Ba Hich has all the good stuff, including noodles, some blood cubes, crab balls, rare beef and of course the all-important Hue basil. Before digging in, toss in some more veggies, like banana blossom and bean sprouts. You’ll also want to squeeze in some fresh lime and add some chili if that’s your thing.

If you want to try some authentic bun bo hue in Da Nang, I highly recommend you check out Ba Hich.

5:30 am – 10 am every day (and they do sell out by 10 am)

107 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai

The post Bun Bo Hue in Da Nang appeared first on Da Nang Food Tour.

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Wanderlust: Cocktail Bar in Da Nang

There are plenty of spots to drink a cheap beer, but there isn’t a proper cocktail bar in Da Nang. Wanderlust is about to change that. But before I tell you how awesome this place is, here’s some backstory on rise of the first legit cocktail bar in Da Nang:

The Wanderlust Story

Tuấn, the manager and head bartender of Wanderlust, got his start bartending right here in Da Nang. He first worked as a bartender at OQ and later took a management job at On The Radio. Soon after, he hit it “big time” when he got offered a job at the Intercontinental, arguably the best hotel in Da Nang. But he found the 5-star environment stuffy, and wanted to do something on his own. Lacking the capital to open his own place, he did what so many Vietnamese people do well: he improvised. He made a portable bar that could fit on his motorbike, and started selling cocktails down by the beach.

Along the way, Tuấn also entered an open bartending competition at the Intercon. His winning cocktail was The Lotus, pictured below. It was also here that he introduced Da Nang to the Smoked Old Fashioned, soon-to-become Wanderlust’s signature drink.

The Lotus – winning cocktail

Smoked Old Fashioned

Eventually Tuấn’s bar prowess caught the attention of a Mr Shota from Japan, who put up the capital for Tuấn to open his own brick-and-mortar joint. Wanderlust Bar in Da Nang officially served its first cocktail on August 6th, 2017.

The Bar

Wanderlust is open and relaxed, with funky tunes playing all night. Prices are reasonable, with most cocktails between 80-90,000 VND. The also do some tasty bar snacks like French fries with rosemary and garlic. At the moment they’re still in their “soft opening” period, though the bar is open every day from 5 pm. The official opening date is slated for October 7th.

If you want to try the best cocktail bar in Da Nang, head to Wanderlust.

Address: There’s no number yet, but Wanderlust is on An Thượng 30, between An Thượng 31 and An Thượng 32, on the ground floor of the Dominika Apartment building.

The post Wanderlust: Cocktail Bar in Da Nang appeared first on Da Nang Food Tour.

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