COSY SPACE: The spacious, well-located restaurant in the city centre. A side sandwich bar provides some great stuffed baguettes for those who do not like noodles. VNS Photo Mỹ Hà
By Nguyễn Mỹ Hà
With the return of COVID-19 community infections up and down the country, health authorities have once again stepped up messaging to encourage everyone in society to keep each other safe by wearing masks and other measures.
"Please hold back your personal joy and happiness for the common good health of our greater community," read messages from national anti-COVID-19 task forces on online platforms. Weddings have been delayed, public gatherings shifted online, classes and even exams are online, and office workers work from home.
Only a month ago, before the resurgence, we went to Đà Nẵng for a family wedding that had been postponed a few times due to the pandemic. The humid air and spring drizzle in the north weighed heavily on everyone's mood. We really looked forward to this wedding and wanted some sunshine in the country's most livable city.
Đà Nẵng has a world of delicacies to offer but the signature dish is Mỳ Quảng, or noodles of the land of Quảng (Quảng Nam and Quảng Ngãi provinces). The dish is more of a mixed noodle salad with a generous serving of broth than a hot noodle soup like other dishes.
In Vietnamese, mỳ and phở both translate as noodles in English.
TOP CHOICE: The signature noodles served on a bamboo tray with a hotpot with two frog legs sticking out. Photo thanhnien.vn
Mỳ Quảng is a species of its own: made of rice flour like the noodles in phở, but dyed in yellowish galanga flour and dabbed with peanut oil, but called mỳ, like other angel-hair noodles made either from rice or wheat. Mỳ Quảng can be served with chicken, pork, shrimp or fish and hard-boiled eggs. The fish can be snakehead, tuna or mackerel.
If you already tried Mỳ Quảng before, or if you like anything with frog, then a frog topping might be the best way to go. When the restaurant Mỳ Quảng Ếch Bếp Trang offered frog as a topping, many locals raised their eyebrows as they were very sceptical.
Famous for being hard-headed, every person from the land of Quảng would argue with those living next door that their mother's Mỳ Quảng is the best. This means everyone in Đà Nẵng has a strong opinion on where serves the best Mỳ Quảng.
"Never go there!" was one of the extreme reviews I saw when looking for a nice place to have dinner. It was only one meal, and we have already had so many traditional bowls of great Mỳ Quảng before, and if the price was a little higher for a nice setting with colourful lanterns and spacious tables, it'd be worth it.
When we arrived at the restaurant, it was very pleasant from the first impression due to the subdued lighting, pretty lanterns of all sizes and colour and comfortable hardwood tables and chairs.
Browsing through the menu, we all loved the drinks section. They had chosen very good drinks that my teenage dining companions knew well and love: corn milk, lotus seed and aloe vera, and sour-salted xí muội.
For the main course, we decided to try the most elaborate dish: assorted Mỳ Quảng with chicken, shrimp, quail eggs and of course, the frog legs. This special dish is served in a hot stone bowl (VNĐ120,000). This is the top in size and quality as the mixed flavours blend in very well, especially when you want to try it all. The tender meat of frog legs went well with chicken broth.
We also chose a fish noodle dish (VNĐ60,000). I love fish so I was happy. A one-frog noodle dish costs VNĐ70,000 and a special two-frog dish can be ordered at VNĐ120,000.
Frog and eel are some of the more creative toppings for Mỳ Quảng which are certainly worth checking out.
FISHY DISH: Quảng noodles with tuna topping and a mixed green salad. VNS Photo Mỹ Hà
Conveniently next door to the restaurant at 26 Lê Hồng Phong St, is a sandwich counter. I've tried the world-famous Bánh mỳ Phượng in Hội An and was very much unimpressed. Bánh mỳ, or sandwiches, in Đà Nẵng are very delicious, but the bread and the filling are completely different from its sisters in Hà Nội or Hải Phòng.
I chose a sandwich with roasted pork belly and salted egg sauce, with lots of veggie and chilli sauce. It was very good, crispy fresh bread with flavourful stuffing. All sandwiches were priced at VNĐ20,000 - 25,000.
It's great to have a table full of dining companions as you can always share and have one bite to try the new dishes.
Due to the current pandemic situation, sharing meals is no longer recommended and Mỳ Quảng Ếch Bếp Trang is now shut due to the virus. Luckily, we ate there in March.
With new cases reported, tested and treated at hospitals, we very much hope the new wave can be under control and life can cautiously return to normal soon.
When that happens, the beautiful beach city of Đà Nẵng will still be waiting for you, bursting with a smorgasbord of culinary delights at affordable prices. VNS