Dalat was chosen as as our summer holiday destination for one very simple reason: it’s not hot.
I grew up in a very hot place, a dry and dusty mining town in Australia’s great outback. I hate being hot. It’s ridiculous that I’ve ended up living somewhere that’s hot and steamy year-round. And I’ve been in Southeast Asia for seven years. That’s seven years of non-stop summer. Ugh.
Dalat is a hill station founded by the former French rulers of Vietnam, who were also seeking some relief from the country’s steamy lowlands. (My friend James wrote this article about Dalat earlier this year.)
Among Vietnamese people, Dalat is famous for its vegetables. The cooler weather and the rich soil means Le Petite Paris can grow many European vegetables that just can’t survive elsewhere in Vietnam.
But geez, it’s hard to find the good stuff. Darling Man’s family and friends and the staff of the hotel where we were staying gave us several recommendations that turned out to be duds. They probably thought we wanted tourist fare. Or food deemed acceptable to Westerners.
Anyway, in our gloriously cool week in Dalat we eventually found the best of the best, which was fabulous. So now I present for your
drooling viewing pleasure ….
What To Eat In Dalat
1. Bánh Tráng Dà Lạt
It’s kind of the Dalat version of a pizza. Kind of, but not quite.
It’s rice paper that’s barbecued with a mixture of egg, dried baby prawns, sweet and spicy sauce and chopped spring onions.
Ladies sit on the footpath tending to banh trang barbecuing over little charcoal braziers. Hunkered down on tiny stools, the banh trang ladies prepare the little pizzas, some using an egg mix squirted out of a plastic sauce bottle. When they’re cooked, a giant chopstick is used to roll up the pizza. Once rolled, it’s wrapped in a square of newspaper and handed over.
Banh trang are very moreish. Which is OK because they’re only VND10,000 each. That’s about 50 US cents.
Try it in the evening on the steps leading down to the Dalat Central Market.
2. Bánh căn
They’re cooked in batches on what looks like a giant cupcake tray with dinky little terracotta lids over each cake. Our batch ended up slightly burnt but it was still pretty darn good.
Try bánh căn at: 118 Bui Thi Xuan, Dalat.
3. Dalat salad
When Darling Man mentioned “salad” as a Dalat specialty, it didn’t really rock my boat. Especially when “salat or xà lách” in Vietnamese means lettuce. I like salad but … as a regional specialty? And Darling Man declined to elaborate on what Dalat salad was or even what was in it.
We ordered at a backpacker-y type restaurant that Darling Man was sure was a bad choice.
For once, he was wrong.
(This photo is not edited, the colours really were that vibrant!)
The vegetables were so crispy and fresh that it is one of the best salads I’ve ever had. And that’s saying a lot because I am a salad girl from a country that does brilliant salads.
Try Dalat Salad at Goc Ha Thanh, 53 Truong Dinh, Dalat. (Also try the vegetable curry there. It’s fantastic as well.)
4. Nem Nướng
The direct translation of “barbecued fermented pork” really doesn’t do this dish justice. (Vietnamese food names are very literal.)
Although … the vagaries of regional Vietnamese dialects means that maybe the pork isn’t always fermented.
Anyway, overlooking the fermentation status of the meat involved, nem nướng is one of those fabulous do-it-yourself Vietnamese dishes … that require both hands. And so with a rambunctious four-year-old and a little baby in a carrier strapped to my chest, I dispensed with the big camera, which was getting everyone tetchy. I snapped a few photos on my phone and concentrated on family wrangling and food rolling. (So sorry for the poor quality pic.)
Try it at Nem Nuong Ba Hung, 254 Phan Dinh Phung, Dalat.
This heading looks very weird but bear with me. In Southern Vietnam, cơm tam (broken rice) stalls are the go-to place for economical please-everyone dining. In Central Vietnam, these kinds of places are called cơm bình dân, which translates as ordinary rice. And in Dalat, it seems the everyday cheap and cheerful local places are called tiệm cơm or rice shop.
At cơm tam and cơm bình dân places, all the dishes are on display and it’s just a matter of pointing and ordering. At Dalat tiệm cơm places, you are required to order from the menu written on the wall.
Darling Man took charge of ordering, partly because he knows the local specialties and partly because that’s what men do in Vietnam.
We ended up with this spectacular feast.
If you’d like to try the same, write down the following (including the tone marks) and you should be chowing down in no time.
- * Thịt kho trứng (pork stewed with egg)
- * Canh xà lách xoong thịt băm (watercress soup with ground pork)
- * Sườn nướng (barbecued pork)
- * Xà lách trộn (mixed salad)
- * Bông cải xào bò (cauliflower stir-fried with beef)
- * Cơm (rice)
You could be asked whether you want a đĩa (plate) or a phần (portion). Generally, a đĩa (plate) serves one person and a phần (portion) is shared.
Try it all at Mien Tay 3, 105 Phan Boi Chau, Dalat.Expect to rub shoulders and bump elbows with locals, this place is very popular, one of those must-visit places for domestic tourists.
6, 7 and 8: Assorted Soups
There are also Dalat versions of mì Quảng, one of my all-time favourite Vietnamese dishes, and hủ tiếu, a noodle soup with pork, prawns and quail eggs.
Try mì Quảng at Hong Trang, 68A Phan Dinh Phung, Dalat. Try hủ tiếu at Thanh, 128 Bui Thi Xuan, Dalat.
Artichoke and pork soup is also considered a Dalat specialty. I tried it and wasn’t impressed. When I mentioned this to Mr Ba, our Dalat Easy Rider tour guide, he laughed and said that people eat artichoke soup for their health, not for the taste. Nuff said.
9. Vegetarian food
The famous Dalat vegetables make the city a great spot for vegetarians. However, being the mother of a baby who is yet to sleep through the night, I had a nap while everyone else went out for vegetarian food. It was, apparently, delicious. As was my nap.
Try vegetarian food at Quan Chay An Lac Tam, 20A Bui Thi Xuan, Dalat
Technically, it’s not a food. But sinh tố (smoothie) is a Vietnamese specialty and the Dalat version is pretty amazing. Especially the strawberry one … because strawberries grow well in cooler climes, apparently.
Try it at: Dalat Fruit, next door to 20A Bui Thi Xuan, Dalat.
Technically, it’s also not food. But for some, it’s one of the necessities of life.
Try great Vietnamese coffee at Organic Coffee Bun at 130 Bui Thi Xuan, Dalat.
It was just down the street from our hotel and we developed a morning ritual of Sonny, the early riser, and me, the coffee lover, heading out into the cold misty morning to get a caffeine fix.
Can you imagine a better coffee date than this little guy?
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3 years ago