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Specialties in Central Vietnam: Must Try Dishes in Central Vietnam

June 25, 2024

Central Vietnam is a culinary treasure trove, boasting a rich and diverse array of local specialties that showcase the region’s distinct flavors and cultural heritage. From the iconic Cao Lau to the fragrant Mi Quang, the dishes of Central Vietnam are a testament to the region’s gastronomic prowess. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the must-try specialties that make Central Vietnamese cuisine so captivating.

Specialties in Central Vietnam

Cao Lau

Cao Lau is a signature dish of Hoi An, a charming historic town in Central Vietnam. This noodle dish is believed to have originated in the 19th century, with influences from Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese culinary traditions. The key ingredient that sets Cao Lau apart is the unique noodles, which are made from a combination of local Hoi An water, ash from the Cham Islands, and a specific type of wood.

Cao Lau Hoi An

Cao Lau Hoi An (Photo source: Vnexpress.net)

Hoi An is undoubtedly the best place to savor authentic Cao Lau. The old town’s bustling market and the countless family-run eateries are the prime destinations for this iconic noodle dish.

List of restaurants:

  • Cao Lau Ba Be: 19 Tran Phu Street, Hoi An
  • Cao Lau Thanh: 26 Thai Phien Street, Hoi An
  • Quan Ong Hai: 6A Truong Minh Luong Street, Hoi An
  • Quan Cao Lau Ba Le: 49/3 Tran Hung Dao Street, Hoi An
  • Cao Lau Khong Gian Xanh: 687 Hai Ba Trung Street, Hoi An

Banh Xeo

Banh Xeo, often referred to as the “sizzling crepe,” is a beloved street food in Central Vietnam. This savory, golden-brown pancake is made from a batter of rice flour, coconut milk, and turmeric, which gives it a distinctive bright yellow hue. The filling typically includes pork, shrimp, bean sprouts, and a variety of fresh herbs.

Banh Xeo in Hue

Banh Xeo in Hue

While the classic Banh Xeo is the most well-known version, there are several regional variations across Central Vietnam. In Hue, for example, the Banh Xeo is often served with a dipping sauce made from fermented shrimp paste, while in Da Nang, the pancake may be filled with local seafood like crab or squid.

List of restaurants:

  • Banh Xeo of Chuon Hang Lien Village
    + 126 Pham Van Dong Street, Hue City, Thua Thien Hue
    + 97 Nguyen Sinh Cung Street, Hue City, Thua Thien Hue
  • Banh Xeo restaurant in Hue attracts locals – Ba Hang: 5/24 An Duong Vuong Street, Hue City, Thua Thien Hue
    Jumping shrimp pancakes at Moc restaurant – 29A Le Hong Phong
  • Bánh Xèo Bà 9:
    + 92 Phan Châu Trinh Alley, Hội An City, Quảng Nam
    + 159/20 Trần Hưng Đạo, Hội An City, Quảng Nam
  • Bale Well Restaurant: 45/51 Tran Hung Dao, Hoi An City, Quang Nam
  • Hoa Hien Restaurant: 33 – 35 Tran Quang Khai, Hoi An City, Quang Nam
  • Banh Xeo Khue: 83/5 Nguyen Duy Hieu, Hoi An City, Quang Nam
  • Cao Lầu Bá Lễ Restaurant: 49/3 Tran Hung Dao, Hoi An City, Quang Nam
  • Ba Duong Banh Xeo – A renowned Banh Xeo restaurant in Da Nang: k280/23 Hoang Dieu, Phuoc Ninh, Hai Chau, Da Nang.
  • Jumping Shrimp Banh Xeo – Nam Hien Cuisine: 46 Phan Thanh, Thac Gian Ward, Thanh Khe District, Da Nang.
  • Co Ba Banh Xeo – Authentic specialty from Binh Dinh: 248 Trung Nu Vuong, Hai Chau, Da Nang.
  • Da Nang Banh Xeo – Quan 76: 05 Duong Thi Xuan Quy, Ngu Hanh Son, Da Nang
  • Central Region Banh Xeo: 280/14 Hoang Dieu, Hai Chau District, Da Nang City.

Mi Quang

Mi Quang is a distinctive noodle dish that originated in the Quang Nam province of Central Vietnam. The key feature of this dish is the unique Mi Quang noodles, which are made from a blend of rice flour, turmeric, and water. This combination gives the noodles a vibrant yellow hue and a slightly chewy texture.

Mi Quang in Hoi An

Mi Quang in Hoi An (Source: Vietnamnet)

The Mi Quang noodles are typically served in a flavorful broth, often made from a combination of pork, shrimp, and local herbs and spices. The dish is then topped with a variety of ingredients, including shrimp, pork, roasted peanuts, fresh herbs, and a sprinkle of crushed toasted rice crackers.

While the core ingredients and preparation method remain consistent, different regions of Central Vietnam have developed their own unique variations of Mi Quang. For instance, in Quang Ngai, the dish may feature local seafood like crab or squid, while in Quang Tri, the noodles are sometimes served dry, with the toppings and broth served on the side.

List of restaurants:.

  • Mi Quang Ba Minh:
    + Address: Cam Ha, Hoi An
    + Opening hours: 7:00 AM – 5:00 PM
    + Price range: 25,000 – 50,000 VND
  • Mi Quang Co Sinh:
    + Address: 170/5 Ly Thuong Kiet Street, Hoi An
    + Opening hours: 6:00 AM – 1:00 PM
    + Price range: 20,000 – 25,000 VND
  • Mi Quang Ong Hai
    + Address: 6A Truong Minh Luong Street, Cam Chau, Hoi An
    + Opening hours: 6:00 AM – 10:00 PM
    + Price range: 40,000 VND
  • Mi Quang Co Sau
    + Address: 37B Pham Quang Anh Street, Da Nang
    + Opening hours: 6:00 AM – 10:00 PM
    + Price range: 10,000 – 45,000 VND

Bun Bo Hue

Bun Bo Hue is a spicy, beefy noodle soup that originates from the former imperial capital of Hue in Central Vietnam. This dish is thought to have its roots in the royal cuisine of the Nguyen dynasty, which ruled Vietnam from the 19th to the early 20th century.

Bun Bo Hue in Hue

Bun Bo Hue in Hue

The key ingredients in Bun Bo Hue include beef (typically slices of beef shank), pork, and a signature lemongrass-based broth that is simmered with shrimp paste, annatto oil, and a blend of aromatic spices. The noodles used in Bun Bo Hue are thick, round rice noodles, which provide a chewy texture to complement the rich, complex flavors of the dish.

Bun Bo Hue is typically served with a variety of accompaniments, such as fresh herbs, sliced chilies, lime wedges, and crispy pork cracklings. The dish is often enjoyed as a hearty, flavorful meal, with the broth, noodles, and toppings all combined together for a satisfying and memorable culinary experience.

List of restaurants:

  • Quan Ba Tuyet – Place to try the best bun bo Hue in Hue
    + Address: 47 Nguyen Cong Tru Street, Hue City
    + Opening hours: 6:00 AM – 1:00 PM
    + Average prices: 35,000 – 50,000 VND
  • Quan Cam – Bun Bo Hue restaurant favored by tourists
    + Address: 45 Le Loi Street, Hue City
    + Opening hours: 6:00 AM – 7:00 PM
    + Average prices: 40,000 – 50,000 VND
  • Bun Bo Hue Mu Roi
    + Address: 40 Nguyen Chi Dieu Street, Hue City
    + Opening hours: 6:30 -11:30 AM
    + Average prices: 25,000 – 35,000 VND
  • Bun Bo Hue O Cuong – Chu Diep
    + Address: 6 Tran Thuc Nhan Street, Hue City
    + Opening hours: 6:30 AM – 12:00 PM
    + Average prices: 30,000 – 50,000 VND
  • Bun Bo Hue Me Keo – Famous Bun Bo Hue restaurant
    + Address: 20 Bach Dang Street, Hue City
    + Opening hours: 6:00 – 10:00 AM
    + Average prices: 25,000 – 35,000 VND
  • Bun Bo Hue O Phung
    + Address: 14 Nguyen Du Street, Hue City
    + Opening hours: 3:00 – 6:00 PM
    + Average prices: 25,000 – 35,000 VND
  • Bun Bo Hue O Ty
    + Address: 5 Nguyen Du Street, Hue City
    + Opening hours: 6:00 AM – 11:00 AM, 11:15 AM – 8:00 PM
    + Average prices: 25,000 – 35,000 VND

Com Hen

Com Hen, also known as “baby clam rice,” is a beloved dish that originates from the coastal city of Hue in Central Vietnam. This unique dish features a bed of steamed, fragrant rice topped with a generous portion of small, tender clams that have been quickly sautéed with a blend of aromatic ingredients.

The key components of Com Hen include the freshly steamed rice, the sautéed baby clams, and a variety of fresh herbs and vegetables, such as mint, perilla leaves, and shredded cabbage. The dish is often seasoned with fish sauce, lime juice, and sometimes a touch of chili for a subtle heat.

Com Hen holds a special place in the culinary heritage of Hue, as it reflects the region’s rich coastal resources and the ingenuity of its cooks. The dish is often enjoyed as a casual street food or as part of a larger meal, and it has become a symbol of Hue’s vibrant food culture.

Dishes in Central Vietnam

Nem Lui

Nem Lui, also known as “lemongrass skewers,” is a grilled meat dish that is popular throughout Central Vietnam. The dish consists of minced pork or beef that is seasoned with lemongrass, garlic, and fish sauce, then wrapped around a lemongrass stalk and grilled to perfection.

Nem Lui in Hue

Nem Lui in Hue

How to Enjoy Nem Lui

Nem Lui is typically served with a variety of accompaniments, including fresh herbs, pickled vegetables, and a dipping sauce made from fish sauce, lime juice, and chili. The fragrant lemongrass skewers are meant to be wrapped in rice paper or lettuce leaves, creating a flavorful and texturally diverse bite.

Nem Lui vs. Nem Nuong

While Nem Lui and Nem Nuong (grilled pork sausage) share some similarities, they are distinct dishes with their own unique characteristics. Nem Nuong is made from ground pork that is seasoned and formed into sausages, while Nem Lui features minced meat wrapped around lemongrass stalks.

Banh Canh Cua

What is Banh Canh Cua?

Banh Canh Cua is a hearty and comforting noodle soup that originates from the coastal regions of Central Vietnam. The dish features thick, chewy udon-like noodles made from a combination of tapioca starch and rice flour, served in a rich, flavorful broth that is typically made with crab.

The key ingredients in Banh Canh Cua include the thick, handmade noodles, chunks of fresh crab meat, and a broth that is often seasoned with fish sauce, lime juice, and a variety of aromatic herbs and spices. The dish is then topped with additional ingredients such as sliced pork, shrimp, or quail eggs, depending on regional preferences.

Where to Find Authentic Banh Canh Cua

While Banh Canh Cua can be found in various parts of Vietnam, the best and most authentic versions are typically found in the coastal provinces of Central Vietnam, such as Quang Ngai, Binh Dinh, and Phu Yen.

Banh Beo

Banh Beo, also known as “water fern cakes,” is a delicate and bite-sized steamed rice cake that is a specialty of Hue in Central Vietnam. These small, disk-shaped cakes are made from a batter of rice flour, tapioca starch, and water, and are typically topped with a variety of savory and flavorful toppings.

Banh Beo in Hue

Banh Beo in Hue

Toppings and Condiments
The most common toppings for Banh Beo include minced shrimp, crispy pork cracklings, scallions, and a savory, umami-rich dipping sauce made from fish sauce, garlic, and chili. These toppings and condiments complement the subtle, slightly sweet flavor of the steamed rice cakes.

Banh Beo in Vietnamese Cuisine

Banh Beo is not only a delicious snack or appetizer, but it also holds cultural significance in Vietnamese cuisine. The dish is often served at special events, celebrations, and festivals, reflecting its deep roots in the culinary traditions of Central Vietnam.

Banh Loc Tran

Banh Loc Tran, also known as “crystal dumplings,” is a unique and delicate dish from the Hue region of Central Vietnam. The name “Banh Loc Tran” translates to “dumplings of the Tran dynasty,” referencing the historical significance of this dish within the region’s culinary heritage.

Cooking Techniques
The preparation of Banh Loc Tran involves a meticulous process of wrapping a savory filling, typically made from pork and shrimp, in a transparent, glutinous rice wrapper. The dumplings are then carefully steamed, resulting in a delicate, chewy texture and a subtle, elegant flavor.

Banh Loc Tran in Festivals and Celebrations

Banh Loc Tran is often served as a special dish during traditional Vietnamese festivals and celebrations, particularly in the Hue region. The dish’s intricate preparation and historical significance make it a revered part of the local culinary culture.

Banh It Ram

Banh It Ram is a type of Vietnamese dumpling that is a specialty of the Quang Nam province in Central Vietnam. These dumplings feature a chewy, sticky rice-based wrapper that is filled with a savory mixture of pork, shrimp, and a variety of aromatic ingredients.

Banh It Ram in Hue

Banh It Ram in Hue

While the traditional filling for Banh It Ram includes pork and shrimp, there are also variations that feature fillings made from other proteins, such as chicken or beef. Additionally, some versions may include ingredients like mushrooms, taro, or other vegetables to provide additional texture and flavor.

Banh It Ram is often served as a snack or appetizer, either on its own or with a dipping sauce made from fish sauce, lime juice, and chili. The dumplings can also be enjoyed as part of a larger meal, complementing other Central Vietnamese dishes.

Notes

Cultural Significance of Central Vietnamese Cuisine

The culinary traditions of Central Vietnam are deeply rooted in the region’s rich history, cultural influences, and geographic location. The dishes featured in this guide reflect the ingenuity and creativity of local cooks, who have harnessed the region’s abundant natural resources and blended them with various cultural traditions to create a truly distinctive and captivating cuisine.

Influence of Geography on Flavors

The geography of Central Vietnam, with its long coastline, fertile river deltas, and proximity to the Truong Son mountain range, has had a profound influence on the flavors and ingredients that define the region’s cuisine. The abundance of seafood, fresh produce, and unique local herbs and spices has all contributed to the unique character of Central Vietnamese dishes.

Mistakes to Avoid

Confusing Central Vietnamese Dishes with Northern or Southern Varieties

It’s important to note that while there may be some similarities, the dishes of Central Vietnam have their own distinct features and preparation methods that set them apart from their counterparts in Northern or Southern Vietnam. Avoid assuming that a dish from Central Vietnam is the same as a similar-sounding dish from another region.

Overlooking the Importance of Fresh Herbs and Vegetables

Central Vietnamese cuisine places a strong emphasis on the use of fresh, locally sourced herbs and vegetables, which play a crucial role in balancing the flavors and textures of the dishes. Be sure to pay attention to the various herbs, greens, and other fresh produce that are used to complement the main ingredients in each dish.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Central Vietnamese dishes spicy?

While some Central Vietnamese dishes, such as Bun Bo Hue, have a noticeable spicy kick, the overall cuisine is not necessarily known for being extremely spicy. The use of chili peppers and other spices is often more subtle and balanced, allowing the natural flavors of the ingredients to shine.

Can I find Central Vietnamese specialties outside of Vietnam?

As Vietnamese cuisine has gained global popularity, you may be able to find some Central Vietnamese specialties in Vietnamese restaurants or specialty markets outside of Vietnam, particularly in areas with large Vietnamese communities. However, the most authentic and high-quality versions of these dishes are still best experienced within the vibrant food culture of Central Vietnam itself.

Conclusion

Central Vietnam’s culinary landscape is a captivating blend of historical tradition, regional diversity, and innovative techniques. From the iconic Cao Lau to the delicate Banh Beo, the dishes featured in this guide offer a tantalizing glimpse into the rich and varied flavors that define this remarkable region. By exploring these specialties, you’ll not only satisfy your palate but also gain a deeper appreciation for the cultural heritage and culinary artistry that make Central Vietnamese cuisine so truly special.

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