Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO world heritage site in the northern province of Quang Ninh, is renowned for its limestone karsts, caves, floating villages and peaceful beaches. You can also get an aerial view of the bay with a cable car ride.
All these attractions are well documented, but in Ha Long Town, on land, there is another kind of tour you can take that is also relaxing and satisfying – a food tour.
Breakfast that packs a punch
Bun be be, or noodles with mantis shrimp, the crustacean known to pack a mean punch, is a common breakfast and lunch dish in Ha Long Town. The shrimp has firm, sweet and nutritious flesh.
Stall owners usually choose big, fresh shrimps of similar sizes, remove their shells with skill and care so that the flesh is not ripped off. Three to five shrimp are placed in a bowl filled with broth made by boiling the mantis shrimp, other shrimp and crabs. A bowl of this noodle soup has shrimp, fish, fried tofu, and some fresh greens.
The dish is sold every morning and noon at local markets in the town, including seafood markets near the beach and the Bai Chay tourism complex. A bowl of mantis shrimp noodles costs VND30,000-40,000 ($1.3-1.7).
The iconic beef noodle soup, pho, is another ideal dish to start a new day with in Ha Long. Some of the famous pho stalls in the city are Sinh’s and Dinh Gia’s on Tran Hung Dao Street.
Let lunch steal the thunder
For lunch, stay with a noodle soup, but this time, a more exotic version made with cu ky, or thunder crab, a Quang Ninh specialty, because most of the edible thunder crabs are found in the province. This crab has a small body with a lot of crust and little flesh, so people mainly use the pincers that are filled with flesh to make the dish.
The flesh of the thunder crab is extracted from its pincers, fried with shallots and garlic, and added to the bowl of noodles. The broth of the noodle is also cooked with the crab. Cooks at some restaurants also add shrimp or mantis shrimp to a bowl so as to make the dish look full and appetizing.
This dish is also served in the morning, but we have chosen it for noon. You can find it at local food courts, local markets in the Bai Chay beach or Gieng Don areas. Each serving costs VND35,000 to 50,000 ($1.3-2.2).
An aromatic afternoon supper
Tiet ham ngai cuu, or braised blood with mugwort, a fragrant herb, is a nutritious snack usually sold late afternoon in Ha Long. This unusual dish may not look yummy to some at first, but it is worth a taste. Some restaurants add duck-embryo eggs to the braised blood.
This dish is especially good for rainy or chilly days. It attracts people of all age groups because it is nutritious and cheap at just VND10,000-20,000 ($0.43-0.86) per serving. The places to try this dish are the Cot 3 market or the Ha Long 1 and Ha Long 2 markets.
Get bubbly with a dessert
This is a must-try dessert
in Ha Long. The yoghurt with tapioca balls, also called boba, has been
served in Ha Long for about 10 years now. The stalls usually make the yoghurt
themselves and it has smooth texture.
The special aspect of this dish is a warm cup of homemade bobas served along with the homemade yoghurt. The bobas are light white and somewhat transparent. They are dipped in sweet, homemade coconut milk. You can pour the warm coconut milk into the yoghurt cup. All the ingredients and temperatures blend together, giving you a lightly sweet and chilly dessert.
Try this at the Lien Tuan or Co Nghi restaurants, which are favored by many young foodies in Ha Long. Each serving costs VND10,000-30,000 ($0.43-1.3).
Squid’s the winner for dinner
Squid fritter (cha muc) is among the most famous dishes in Ha Long. Locals eat this with steamed rice rolls (banh cuon). This is different from other localities where banh cuon is usually served with pork.
The steamed rice rolls with fried squid has become another Quang Ninh specialty. The smooth, white steamed rice rolls sheets are rolled together with minced pork and Jew’s ear mushrooms; some stalls also include shrimps.
To make the fritters, the squid is minced or pounded until it turns to a pasty mixture. Then the cook takes a part of the mix, shapes it into a flat round piece and deep fries it at a suitable temperature. The fried squid is aromatic with a golden skin. The dish is best served with coriander and chili garlic fish sauce.
In Ha Long, diners can find steamed rice rolls with squid at any time of the day. Some famous restaurants, including Ba Ngan, Ba Yen and Goc Bang serve this dish, as do local markets during the day. A serving costs VND30,000 - 55,000 ($1.3-2.4) depending on how much squid you order.
Story and photos by Phong Vinh, Tam Linh