Da Nang’s sizzling pancakes
Da Nang is the modern, neon lit counterpart to quaint Hoi An ancient town. For reasons which remain a mystery to me, the city’s developers thought it was a good idea to build a flame throwing bridge. But Da Nang’s real attraction is its amazing food, in particular, Banh Xeo, crispy rice pancakes.
On our travels through Vietnam, our first stop was An Bang, a quiet beach town on the outskirts of beautiful Hoi An (Hội An). Hoi An has its charms with its old merchant houses, long history, great food and cosy cafés. But it is often overcrowded with other tourists and travelers.
Its bigger brother, Da Nang (Đà Nẵng) seems to be evolving into the polar opposite of Hoi An. Da Nang is modern and seems to be part of a gigantic tourism development program with dozens of huge casinos, conference centers and resort hotels under construction. Where Hoi An styles itself as quaint and traditional, Da Nang offers neon lights, open air concerts, and a fire-spewing bridge shaped like a dragon. Yes, you read that right, Da Nang has a bridge that spews fire.
When we learned of the existence of a bridge that spews fire, we knew we had to see it. The fire show starts at 9 pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Fortunately for us, we were in Hoi An during the weekend, and Da Nang is just a short trip away from Hoi An. So we rented a scooter from our guesthouse in An Bang and drove to Da Nang at sunset.
The perfect finger food
Da Nang offers more than fiery architectural design. The city is also known for its great food. We went to Ba Duong a local favourite which we read about on Serious Eats. To get there we had to park our scooter on a side street of one of Da Nang’s main boulevards, Nguyễn Văn Linh, and walk down a narrow alley which ends at the restaurant.
Ba Duong specializes in Banh Xeo (Bánh xèo). Banh Xeo originated in Central Vietnam around the cities of Hue and Da Nang. The name directly translates into “sizzling pancakes”.
In essence, Banh Xeo are crispy rice flour pancakes with a protein, usually shrimp or squid, that are eaten in a wrap of rice paper together with salad and herbs, ginger, sprouts, and vegetables. That makes Banh Xeo the perfect finger food. You pile all the delicious ingredients onto a rice paper, wrap it up into a roll, and take a hearty bite.
The secret sauce
The specialty at Ba Duong is their savoury peanut and minced pork sauce. I am an absolute peanut lover. Give me any dish that has a savoury peanut based sauce and I will devour it. This special sauce was heavenly. It perfectly complemented the crispy pancakes with the crunchy shrimp baked into them.
Another highlight were the grilled minced pork skewers. I don’t know if it was supposed to be that way, but I also added them to my Banh Xeo. Their rich flavours were perfectly complemented by the salad and fresh greens. Among them, we tasted coriander, basil, and other aromatic herbs.
We ordered a plate of Banh Xeo, which is four medium sized pancakes each cut into two pieces. But it was so delicious that we were not ready to leave the place after one plate. There was something highly addictive about the sauce and the pancakes. Thus, we ordered another plate and continued stuffing ourselves with pancake wraps.
What to drink with Banh Xeo
To wash it down, we had Saigon beer, which is very light. Its color is almost translucent. To be honest, we are not big fans of the industrially made beer in Vietnam. It just does not have enough taste for us. If we have the chance, we order one of the many excellent Vietnamese craft beers, which are trending at the moment. Here, though, the lightness of the Saigon beer was perfect to accompany the Banh Xeos.
The fire spectacle
After we finished our second round of pancakes, we headed out to the bridge to see the spectacle that initially brought us to Da Nang. Below the bridge, the city had constructed a small promenade, riverside park, from where you have a perfect view of the bridge’s dragon head but are far enough away to avoid getting your head roasted.
The spectacle is absurd. I had assumed, the bridge would light up and puff some smoke, but actually, the bridge is more like a flamethrower, throwing fireballs into the sky. At the end of the show, it also sprays water onto the crowds standing on the bridge.
I would classify it as the most absurd bridge I have ever seen and it is definitely worth checking out if you are like me and get a kick out of that sort of absurd thing. But the true reason to make a trip to Da Nang is to get a taste of its food and, above all, its delicious Banh Xeo. We visited several Banh Xeo places after this but none was even close to Ba Duong.