Da Nang's dames serve up street cuisine

By Pham Van   August 4, 2016 | 03:36 pm PT
The ladies that nurture street food culture.

The coastal city of Da Nang, together with its well-known young vibe, is the place to be for snack and junk food lovers. And like everywhere else in Vietnam, the best treats come from the lovely dames who put their names up as guarantees for the culinary experiences they provide.

These dames are called 'ba' in Vietnamese, a pronoun reserved for grandmas and respected women, but also the way to address the kind lady owners of street food places who treat customers like their own grandchildren. Now, let us tell you the stories of five 'ba' who have spent decades serving up delicacies in Da Nang.

'Banh xeo ba Duong'

Actually, Duong is the name of the owner’s husband, not hers. But it doesn’t seem to matter for a 30-year business. 'Banh xeo' is actually the Vietnamese version of the crepe with savory rather than sweet toppings and a thinner, crispier base thanks to the use of rice instead of wheat. It can be eaten alone or wrapped in the versatile 'banh trang'. 'Banh xeo' here is just the best version of a dish sold everywhere in Vietnam, with high-quality rice flour from nearby Quang Nam Province, river prawns, tender beef, bean sprouts, egg and a sweet'n'sour dipping sauce that settles the score.

At VND40,000 ($1.8) for a plate of four, it’s definitely a no-brainer for those looking for a taste of Da Nang.

'Banh trang dap ba Tu'

For 20 years, Madame Tu has been serving Da Nang's street gourmets her special crunchy treat. A thin sheet of ‘banh trang’, which forms the cover of the famous spring roll ‘nem’, is grilled over a charcoal fire until reaching the desired crunchiness, then gently broken ('dap' in Vietnamese) in order for the sheet to fold. 'Banh uot', a silky and soft thin sheet made of rice flour, is then stuffed between the crunchy layers to add a break to the crispy texture.

‘Banh trang dap’ is eaten with a special fish dipping sauce. Each house distinguishes itself mainly through the sauces they boast, and it may be Tu’s dip whipped up from fish sauce, peanut oil, chopped pineapple, garlic, chili and fried shallots that keep customers coming back.

'Oc ba My'

Sucking snails is all the rage on the streets of Da Nang. Opening at 4 p.m. at a busy intersection, Madame My’s place offers all kinds of snail dishes, characterized by the addition of green papaya salad dashed with fried shallots. Snails here are caught in streams, and bear a distinct aroma and preferred chewiness. The pointy ends are also chopped off, allowing one to suck, instead of dig the snail out with a fork.

A decent meal for two here costs only around VND50,000 ($2.3).

'Nem lui ba Ngoc'

At VND5,000 ($0.2), the finger-size ‘nem lui’ here are always ordered in tens. Famous from Hue to Saigon, ‘nem lui’ are made of seasoned minced pork, shaped around a stick and grilled over a charcoal fire. Though said to have a dipping sauce less savory than other places, Madame Ngoc’s ‘nem lui’ still makes it onto our list thanks to the lovely flavor of the meat, which is still the spirit of the dish no matter how hard they emphasize the importance of sauce.

'Banh beo ba Be'

A veteran with 10 years of experience, Madame Be’s is the place to come if one is still on the fence about where to taste a piece of Da Nang.

Snacks from central Vietnam like 'banh loc' (the see-through dumpling that reveals with an alien-like whole prawn stuffing), 'banh nam' (a soft snack that comes wrapped in leaves with a filling of prawns and minced pork), 'banh ram' (a combination of both chewiness and crunchiness) converge here, giving eaters a chance to taste as much as possible without having to move.

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