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Central Vietnam Food - Destination for Culinary Tourisms

Central Vietnam is an area rich with both history and food. Check out our Central Vietnam food guide to learn about the foods not to miss in this exciting food region.

These are the four themes that defined our twenty days of living and eating in Central Vietnam, a part of the world burnt into our minds from the iconic photos taken during its mid-20th century struggles. Our three week odyssey started in imperial, war scared Hue, continued in rustic, preserved Hoi An and ended in sun kissed, beachy Danang before we headed south to Saigon.

Three weeks in Central Vietnam allowed us to sample a wide variety of foods and return to our favorites again (and again) not to mention more than our fair share of Vietnamese coffee. It also afforded us the opportunity to connect with locals and tour the historic DMZ.

First Stop, Hue

Central Vietnam Food -  Destination for Culinary Tourisms

We stayed at an Airbnb rental right on the Perfume River’s edge during our time in rainy Hue. How much did it rain during our stay? it rained a lot – so much that during a typhoon that it even rained inside the house. Despite the overabundance of water, we still loved Hue for its understated elegance dating back to French colonialism, its lively public market and its imperial style of food.

Banh Beo

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Our first bite in Hue was Banh Beo, so maybe that’s why this local specialty holds a special place in our hearts. Or maybe because it’s because Banh Beo combines the best flavors of imperial Hue with the dim sum concept that we adore. Instead of one big plate of food, an order of Banh Beo involves a dozen tiny plates, each with its own rice pancake topped with chopped and crispy shrimp, plus bowls of flavorful dipping sauce. Warning: A dozen dishes may sound like a lot of food, but it’s really not once you start slurping down the tasty treats.

Hang Me Me is located at 412-16 Võ Thị Sáu, Huế, Tỉnh Thừa Thiên-Huế, Vietnam.

Bun Bo Hue

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Although Bun Bo Hue is popular throughout Central Vietnam, the namesake city is the best place to eat this savory soup. Spicier than pho, a good bowl of Bun Bo Hue has vermicelli rice noodles, braised beef, herbs and green vegetable. A great bowl will have extras like offal and gelatinous pig blood, though these special additions are optional for more timid eaters.

Bun Bo Hue Quan Cam is located at 38 Trần Cao Vân, Phú Hội, tp. Huế, Thừa Thiên Huế, Vietnam.

Com Hen

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After eating an excellent version of Com Hen in Houston earlier this year, we were curious to try this dish in the city of its roots. We picked a shack near our rental where we enjoyed bowls loaded with rice, herbs, freshwater clams and pork rinds. It’s debatable if the quality was any better, but the experience of sitting in tiny plastic chairs and drinking local beer was certainly more authentic.

Com Hen Ti Hon is located at 17 Ð Han Mac Tu, Huế, Thừa Thiên Huế, Vietnam.

Salty Coffee

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Who knows if we would have discovered Salty Coffee without Emily Luxton‘s introduction to Lien Nguyen, the entrepreneurial founder of I Love Hue Tour. Lien and her “lady biker” colleague picked us up at our Airbnb and took us on a whirlwind Hue street food tour that ended with salty coffee at Ca Phe Muoi. We loved the unique caffeinated beverage so much that we returned to the laid back cafe several times for more cups of the salty, sweet coffee. In some ways similar to the more famous egg coffee in Hanoi, salty coffee has just enough salt to cut the sweetness of its milk topping which makes it a more interesting beverage.

Ca Phe Muoi is located at 10 Nguyễn Lương Bằng, Phú Hội, tp. Huế, Thừa Thiên Huế, Vietnam.

Ram It

We just had to try Ram It after reading the following menu description: First part is around sticky bit that has a shrimp’s meat in it. Second, and at the same time, the top of cake: “Banh Ram-It” is one piece of from the pig’s skin that has a yellow colour and is completely crispy. Crisp like a broken bubble!!!

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With their crispy rice bottoms and soft, shrimpy tops, these little cakes may be the perfect finger food. We enjoyed them as a counterbalance to the little plates of Banh Beo, continuing the dim sum theme of our meal at Hue’s Hang Me Me.

Hang Me Me is located at 412-16 Võ Thị Sáu, Huế, Tỉnh Thừa Thiên-Huế, Vietnam.

Second Stop, Hoi An

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We loved well-known tourist mecca Hoi An for its Chinese lantern decor and easy lifestyle. This city has an excellent food scene that includes a number of fun coffee shops serving both Western and Vietnamese joe. Plus, Hoi An has what very well may be the best banh mi shop in all of Vietnam. Considering that our camera died in Hoi An, it says a lot that the city still managed to charm us during our week long visit.

Banh Mi

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We often like to find hidden culinary treasures when we travel and share them here with our readers. Banh Mi Phuong is not one of these finds. Already made famous by the likes of Anthony Bourdain and recommended to us by our new Halong Bay friends John and Charmaine, this popular deli serves what are arguably the best banh mi sandwiches in Central Vietnam if not the entire country. We also enjoyed banh mi sandwiches at The Bahn Mi Queen, another Hanoi contender for best banh mi sandwich in Vietnam.

Banh Mi Phuong is located at 2B Phan Châu Trinh, tp. Hội An, Quảng Nam, Vietnam. The Banh Mi Queen is located at 115 Trần Cao Vân, Sơn Phong, Tp. Hội An, Quảng Nam, Vietnam.

Banh Xeo

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We kind of love these ‘sizzling cakes’ that we first ate at the Hoi An Central Market. Crispy, flavorful and stuffed with shrimp and other savories, these pancakes don’t carry much resemblance to the western breakfast favorite with the same name. Shhh – don’t tell anybody, but we like these pancakes better.

Hoi An Central Market is located at Trần Quý Cáp, tp. Hội An, Quảng Nam, Vietnam.

Cao Lau

Cao Lau is not only specific to Central Vietnam, but this dish is hyper specific to Hoi An. Legend has it that Cao Lao can only be made with water from a specific Cham well just outside the city, so if you eat Cao Lau outside of Hoi An, then you’re not eating true Cao Lau. Readily available throughout Hoi An, Cao Lau typically includes roast pork, rice noodles, crispy bits and lots of fresh greens. Though many local restaurants add their own twists to this classic, we most enjoyed the traditional versions served at the Hoi An Central Market and at Thanh Cao Lau.

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Hoi An Central Market is located at Trần Quý Cáp, tp. Hội An, Quảng Nam, Vietnam. Thanh Cao Lau is located at Minh An tp. Hội An, 6 Thái Phiên, Minh An, Hội An, Quang Nam, Vietnam.

Com Ga

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We eat a good bit of chicken and rice in the USA, usually of the Cantonese variety. The Vietnamese version known as Com Ga  is similar but different. Each restaurant seems to make the simple dish with its own style and flavor. We shared the excellent version pictured here at the "Com Ga Bà Buội"

Com Ga Bà Buội in 22 Phan Chu Trinh, Tp. Hội An, Quảng Nam,  Vietnam.

White Rose Dumplings

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We admitted our dumpling love last year, and this love has not waned while we’ve been busy traveling the world. So, it was a no-brainer for us to trek to the restaurant that creates white rose dumplings for the entire city of Hoi An. White rose dumplings are little rounds of rice dough stuffed with pork or shrimp and then shaped like flowers. The workers at White Rose Restaurant serve these dumpling gems with crispy shallots, savory shrimp broth and assorted condiments.

White Rose Restaurant is located at  533 Hai Bà Trưng, Cẩm Châu, tp. Hội An, Quảng Nam, Vietnam.

Mi Quang

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Although Cao Lau may be Hoi An’s most famous signature dish, Mi Quang is the the Hoi An dish that stole our hearts with its thick rice noodles, protein (sometimes chicken, sometimes seafood), broth and greens. We found the perfect spot for Mi Quang – a little stall on Thai Phien right across from Thanh Cao Lau. We don’t have an address, but that just makes the discovery all the more fun.

Finally, Danang

And then there’s Danang. We almost skipped Danang but spent three days there because of a lower airplane fare to Saigon on a Wednesday versus a Sunday. Did we like this laid back beach city with endless seafood and a vibrant expat community? Let’s just say that we could see ourselves living in Vietnam’s third largest city at some point in our future. Although Vietnam has its quirks, we felt at home in this part of wonderful but weird Vietnam.

Fresh Seafood

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Seafood in Danang is fresh and plentiful which is no surprise based on the bustling city’s location on the shore of the Eastern Sea. A walk by the beach yields a field day of people watching opportunities as well as a plethora of dining options from casual eateries with a just a few tanks and a grill to restaurants with fuller selections and bars.

Thanh Hien is located at Vo Nguyen Giap street, Truong Sa, Phước Mỹ, Đà Nẵng, Vietnam.

Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)

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For many of our generation, the American War with Vietnam conjures images of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), jungles and rice paddies. Vietnam is not a tiny country and it’s a long way (we traveled by jet from Danang to Saigon by jet) from South to Central. What many don’t realize is that a large portion of the war occurred in the fields and forests around Hue and its surroundings. Central Vietnam is the home of the DMZ or ‘demilitarized zone’ – the thin band that previously separated North Vietnam from the South. We climbed up hills to see large pillbox installations that overlook the perfume river while avoiding live mines that still dot areas of the countryside. The United States had a large air base in Danang, and we saw remnants of the old barracks there. Americans watched the Vietnam conflict on a TV, but travelers to Central Vietnam can observe relics like the bullet-riddled Long Hung Church and the Highway 9 cemetery memorial. Though much of the war history is murky and many of the sites like the Vinh Moc Tunnels have been recreated over the years, visiting these central areas stills allows people to experience a valuable piece of world history.

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Like much of Vietnam, coffee is readily available in Central Vietnam, which makes sense since Vietnam is the world’s second largest producing coffee country just after Brazil. Like the locals, we drank cà phê sữa đá (also known as iced coffee with milk) morning, noon and night. In Central Vietnam, coffee tends to be strong, iced and sweet.

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Did we mention that our camera died right in the middle of our time in Central Vietnam? This shocking development threw us for a loop, taught us some valuable lessons about back-up equipment and the importance of authorized dealers while also slowing down our burgeoning video schedule. Instead of crying, we ate ice cream.

But what about the food beyond ice cream? After eating our way through Hanoi the three prior weeks, we wondered how the Central Vietnamese food would compare. Long story short, the food compared well. Very well indeed. So well that we missed it as soon as we headed south to Saigon.
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Item Reviewed: Central Vietnam Food - Destination for Culinary Tourisms Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Nga Đỗ
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