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Nha Trang chow

Yesterday, I came across a com (rice plate) joint that looked really good. As soon as I sat down with my food, they got hit with a massive rush, like 30 people. So I think guessed right on this one. This one has a squid stuffed with pork and grilled, some semi-pickled mustard cabbage, some lacey spring roll things with pork and I think banana, a fish steak in caramel and black pepper sauce, and pork spareribs in a fish sauce/caramel sauce. The soup was clam and brine shrimp based, with some mizuna-like greens. The squid itself cost VND20,000, bringing the whole thing to VND 30,000 or 35,000, which is around US$2.00.


On the way back from the rice plate joint above, I came across this guy who was just getting started for the day.


I think I lost the first entry I wrote about this due to crappy Internet access. Anyway, at the risk of repeating myself, the bread around Nha Trang is a little chewier and more substantial than the light and crispy rolls that I've seen used for banh mi so far in Vietnam and in the US. I'm not quite sure why this is, but it's still quite good bread. The texture is more like sourdough, but without any sour flavor. You might be able to see the strong rip in the bread, as opposed to the usual smoothed out seam. The sandwich is a bit different - it contains only roasted belly pork with crackling skin (heo quay), tomatoes, mint (!?!) and some slightly sweet soy/chili sauce. No pate or pickled carrots or daikon or cilantro, as I recall. Mint isn't my favorite, but it was still one of the better sandwiches I've had in Vietnam. As I was walking away, I noticed that he also offers a duck sandwich, and I resolved to come back the next day. Unfortunately, the weather was crappy and he must have decided to play hooky. I went back, but he wasn't there. Dang it! Predictably, now I have roasted duck sandwich on the brain.


Being the rainy season, the rivers wash dirt into the bay, turning it muddy. During the drier season, Nha Trang is apparently a big destination for scuba divers. This is a spot where you'd normally get drink service while enjoying the beach.


For a bit of sightseeing, I went to the Cham temple, Thap Ba Ponagar.


The Cham were rivals to the Khmer around the same time as Ankgor Wat was being built in neighboring Cambodia. This is the main tower at this complex. The scale is not nearly as large as Angkor Wat, but there are clearly some shared traits.


Originally Hindu, they later incorporated some Muslim influences, and my guide at Angkor had referred to them as Champa Muslims from Vietnam. It's pretty amazing to think about how far Hinduism and Islam would have had to travel in 500AD to have that kind of influence in this area. I believe this is their representation of Siva.


These schoolgirls tried to climb the increasingly steep steps. This is as high as they got.


After that, I went to Cho Dan, or Dan Market. Here's a typical kitchenware vendor.


These appear to be related to ham chen pi, except there's no sweet red bean paste and no five spice powder, just fried puffs with sesame seeds. Freshly fried stuff is almost always yummy.


Today, it was still dreary weather, but I decided to venture out and see what I could find. I came across an elementary school, and this banh mi cart.


What caught my attention was the small grill, where she was lightly toasting the bread, and grilling bo la lot - beef meatballs wrapped in la lot leaves. Usually, they're bigger either dolma sized or ping pong ball sized, but these are little marble sized jobbies. Just a little thin chili sauce for garnish. Since it was raining, I almost didn't even take a picture at all, but a man had set up a tarp, and me motioned that I could sit under it to eat my sandwich. Between the toasted bread and the grilled filling, this is a nice variation that I hadn't seen before.


Since he had been so kind, I bought something from him. I got two shots with a homemade crossbow at a spinning wheel. If I had gotten both bolts in the same pie section, I'd have won a prize, like some stickers or something. Remember, this is in front of an elementary school. Even though I lost, I still got this, which is taffy that he hand pulls into floss (kinda like Chinese hand-pulled noodle technique) , then puts it between two wafers with some coconut meat and crushed peanuts. Don't ask about his sharpened thumbnail and non-existent hand sanitation.


Another thing I had been wanting to try was bia hoi, or fresh beer. I ordered it, but it turns out this place only sells by the pitcher, about 1.5 liters, for about VND10,000, or about US$0.60. Yo! is Vietnamese for cheers, salud, etc. It's actually pretty decent beer - I think not quite as strong as regular beer, and tastes like... regular Coors or something like that. I ran into a Canadian and a Kansan who had both lived in Australia for many years and were on business/holiday in Vietnam. He also mentioned a premium beer which costs about twice as much (gasp!) for 2 liters, and comes in a stainless steel container. The dish is a spicy venison stir fry, to be eaten with bread instead of rice, recommended by the server. There's a fair bit of sauce in the bottom of the dish for dunking and it's pretty tasty overall, but there's not much game flavor in the venison.


Good stuff, Maynard!

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