Apr 2008

Eating in Nha Trang I


After suffering through his first Boston winter, we treated our friend Matt to a trip to Nha Trang during his week-long stay in Vietnam. The goal of the trip was to nosh, relax and “get brown.”

By the way, Nha Trang will be the site of this year’s Miss Universe Pageant and the picture above is a billboard counting down the number of days until The Donald comes to town.


Unlike the Jersey Shore, the beaches in Nha Trang are peaceful and empty. The funny thing about Nha Trang is that the waves roll on to the shore sideways. The Astronomer and I took a dip as soon as we arrived, while Matt soaked up some rays because he’s not much of a dipper.

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After beach time, we walked toward Nha Trang’s major market. On the way, I bought 100 grams of xi muoi Thai. I usually avoid xi muoi because it is oftentimes too lip-puckeringly sour, but this version was just right—salty and sweet. I also bought 100 grams of me Thai because I am addicted to sugar coated tamarind candies.


We arrived at the market in the middle of the afternoon, which wasn’t the smartest because it was pretty much deserted and the vendors were napping.


Our first stop at the market was at an alfresco joint serving up bun sua—rice vermicelli noodles with jellyfish. It turns out that jellyfish isn’t all that exciting. I would say that it’s definitely more texturally interesting than it is flavorful. The broth was clear and mild and the cha and tomatoes came through where the jellyfish lacked.


Since Matt had never tried nuoc mia (sugarcane juice) we ordered him a tall glass.


The boy dug it!


Next we moved on to a che vendor. So many choices, so little time…


The Astronomer and Matt tried the che bap, which was warm and good, but a bit too sweet.


I had the che troi nuoc because it’s one of my favorites. Everything was exactly on point, down to the sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds. The mung bean paste inside the tapioca balls was just the right among of salty to contrast with the overall sweetness. Mmm!


As we enjoyed our che, Matt spotted a bunch of live roosters hung from a motorbike. They were surprisingly quiet as a result of all the blood rushing to their heads. Poor guys.


Xoi! I seriously can’t pass a xoi vendor without buying some and dropped 3,000 VND on a small bag of xoi gac. The sticky rice was more oily than usual and a really vibrant orange.


While I munched on my newly acquired xoi, The Astronomer and Matt downed two bowls of mediocre mi quang—too much broth and too little zing.


The Astronomer and Matt have ridiculous metabolisms and are thus able to munch on cookies all day and still have killer abs. I, on the other hand, must participate in street aerobics and run daily to maintain my physique.


After the market, we walked to see the Cham towers. This is a view of the bridges of Nha Trang from the towers.


And here is an actual Cham tower. I don’t mean to be a traitor to my people, but Angkor Wat was heaps more impressive.


For our first dinner in the city, we dropped in at a large seafood emporium. The food wasn’t great, but we left stuffed and satisfied enough. Our first course was a jellyfish salad served with rice crackers.


Here’s a closeup of the goods. I think I ate enough jellyfish for a lifetime in Nha Trang.


Our second course was sweet and sour squid. The seasonings were meh and the squid was not Phu Quoc-tender. On a postive note, the pineapple chunks were tasty!


Our penultimate course was braised catfish in a claypot. This dish was the standout of the evening and different from the ca kho I’ve eaten in Saigon due to the generous employment of ginger.


And lastly, stir-fried noodles with seafood. Ho hum seafood makes for a ho hum noodle dish. However, a dousing of caramelized sauce from the ca kho turned things around.

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12 thoughts on “Eating in Nha Trang I

  1. Yay!!! my hometown. You didnt get to try the Nha Trang specialty: Nem Nuon Ninh Hoa. If I knew you would of gone, I could of given you My aunt as a tour guide, she knows all the best place to eat and be satisfied with what you get.

    glad you had fun =)

  2. Great blog, I did not know that you could eat jelly fish those stingy buggers. Can’t imagine what it tastes like. Ca kho looks delicious as well as the che.
    I’ll be in Nha Trang in August for 4 days ( just miss the Miss Universe Pageant, darn it) to try these foods but I think I’ll avoid the jelly fish.

  3. Hey if you are still in NT, you may want to try the nem nuong at Dam Van Quyen. Not too shabby and pretty reasonablly priced too =)

  4. Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa is definitely a must-try in Nha Trang. DON’T miss out Bun Ca Nha Trang (near the big supermarket there – again, I forgot the street name 🙂 ), it’s a big hawker. You can check out with the locals there, they will show you. There are so many versions of Bun Ca in Vietnam, different province has its own version. The one from Nha Trang and the one from Hai Phong are probably the best (my preferrence only).

  5. If you’re still in NT, try a resto named Chieu Anh 2, it is just at the front of the old airport, very nice food and reasonable price.

  6. Aw man, I missed out on a lot of unique local food in Nha Trang. Bummer. Next time I head out of town, I’m going to ask you guys where to eat! Thanks, anyway! Hopefully Htran will get to use these suggestions in August. DO report back!

  7. The boat trip looks suspiciously like “Boat Crew #4”, which cost us $6.00 US for the all day tour. Though I was stationed near Nha Trang for five months in 1968 (out at Dien Khanh with SF ODA-502, advising the Luc Luong Dac Biet) I never did get out to the islands. Beautiful site from the Sea. The Vietnamese have only been in Khanh Hoa for just a bit over 350 years, and Nha Trang as a city is less than half that. I assume that Nha Trang had a more architecturally robust pressence, but the newer Vietnamese inhabitants likely walked off with all the bricks for building their own houses. Dien Khanh suffered a similar fate. In my day, the citadel walls were covered in stone. After liberation, the locals and the new government removed all the stone and used it in their own buildings, so that all that was left was the pounded mud interiors, which have since (mostly) been covered up with cement.

    In 1968 there was a company of Cham paratroopers stationed in the Nha Trang MIKE Force, and after a few jars of mnam pay, they would start wargaming what they would have to do to take Nha Trang back from their Kinh overlords. It is my understanding that the majority of Nha Trang left the Nha Trang area in for Cambodia sometime in the 1820s.

    Great site. After Dien Khanh I moved up to Pleiku to run around the central highlands for eight months with the Yards, but Nha Trang remains one of my favourite cities. We have taken all my wife’s relatives (all rice paddy peasants from south of Can Tho) up to Nha Trang, and stop every time we travel to Hue if we can’t make it down for at least a week.

    By the way, I have heard it said that the Cham influenced Vietnamese music. Perhaps some of the commenters could shed some light on this. I would love top see Nha Trang host a sort of “jazz” festival that required participating bands to use traditional Vietnamese instruments.

  8. Errata. Sorry, the above refers to a Cham architectural poresence, and the Cham leaving Nha Trang o/A the 1820s.

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