Local street food is one of the best ways to truly know a new place, and Vietnamese localities like Phan Rang are no exception.
It is well known that street side eateries in major cities like Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Da Nang serve delicious food. However, for the adventurous traveller, similar, equally enjoyable discoveries await in smaller locations.
The quiet seaside town of Phan Rang, capital of Ninh Thuan Province in south central Vietnam, is a case in point. It offers a culinary experience unique to the location.
The town is about an hour from the Cam Ranh Airport and blessed with sunshine and photogenic natural scenery. The better known tourist hotspot in the area is Mui Ne, but this town has its own distinct charm, including its cuisine.
Mi Quang noodle soup.
Quite a gem, the Mi Quang Thien stall serves a delicious version of this noodle dish and is easy to find. The first stall on Nguyen Van Troi Street, it is near the circle connecting Ngo Gia Tu and Tran Phu streets. Served piping hot with the fragrance of steaming pork broth, this dish is best had early in the morning.
Mi Quang is a dish that originates in Quang Nam Province in central Vietnam. It has become popular throughout the country and it seems every place has its own version. The one in Phan Rang is more like a pork noodle soup instead of the standard semi-dry style with a bit of a soup base. It is served with big pieces of pork on the bone, a quail egg, fish cake (cha ca), and crunchy peanuts on a generous portion of rice noodles.
As the day breaks, security guards, taxi drivers, students and office workers ride up to the place, exchanging small talk with the young lady chef as they settle down for breakfast. They are regular customers, obviously. We order a cup of coffee while waiting. And the dish proves well worth it.
Rice flour and turmeric crepes, banh xeo.
Another spot popular among locals is Banh Xeo 22 Quang Trung, which carries its address in its name. Phan Rang’s version of banh xeo (rice flour and turmeric crepes) is smaller than the version found in Ho Chi Minh City, but has the same crispiness. The evening we visited, the cook was busy whipping up orders for a stream of customers. Deftly working the pan, she topped up the mixture with small prawns, squid, minced pork and bean sprouts.
The whole yummy crispy crepe is usually dipped into a choice of sauces. There’s fermented shrimp paste (mam nem) with a bold smell (some would say smelly!) and salty taste which certainly adds a buzz to the pancake.
Then there’s the sweet and crunchy mam dau phong (peanut sauce) as a less pungent alternative. Unlike the version in Ho Chi Minh City, Phan Rang’s banh xeo is not served with banh trang (rice paper) that you roll after placing a piece of the banh xeo and some herbs in it. Here, fresh young mango strips are offered as a sourish accompaniment to balance the sweet or salty sauces.
For spice lovers, there’s fresh pounded red chilli to add to the fish sauce; and if that isn’t enough, there are smoking hot small green chillies that will bring satisfying tears to your eyes.
Phan Rang is quite a center for chilli farming and almost everywhere you eat, there’s enough fresh chillis and freshly made pounded chilli dips for your spice cravings.
Mini egg pancakes, banh can.
If pancakes are your thing, you will love banh can (mini egg pancakes). These are served with chicken eggs either beaten as a mixture into it (banh can trung) or quail eggs cracked into the pancake mix (banh can trung cut).
The pancakes can also be ordered with shrimp, minced pork or squid baked into it. The whole dish is smothered with spring onions before it’s served. Phan Rang’s version is widely available for breakfast or dinner. And just like local coffee shops, it seems like everyone has a favorite banh can spot in this town.
A banh can stall at 33 Quang Trung Street.
The one we visited one morning, Banh Can 33 Quang Trung at 33 Quang Trung Street, offered tasty portions with a brown fish sauce (nuoc ca), that even had small anchovies in it. Nuoc ca is a popular dip in this seaside town. There were also generous sides of sour young mango strips, sliced onions and cucumbers.
Banh hoi at 44, 21/8 Street.
Banh hoi is another unique treat to savor in Phan Rang. We checked out this dish at Banh Hoi May Kim Ngan shop, a simple establishment at 44, 21/8 Street, over lunch time. Their banh hoi was sumptuous. Made with fine rice vermicelli in delicate bundles and topped with deep fried banh trang (rice paper) and spring onions, it was served with sesame banh trang, fish cake (cha ca), pig’s liver and deep fried pork belly, as well as a heap of vegetables.
You wrap all this up according to your preference and dip your wrap into either the mam nem (fermented shrimp paste sauce) or mam dau phong (peanut sauce). It might seem just like simple, small portions without a lot of carbohydrates to stuff yourself with, but this wrap was filling.
Next time you feel adding a cuisine component to your vacation, Phan Rang deserves serious consideration.