Food in Dalat (or Đà Lạt) was quite a surprise. The town is in the highlands and is home to a lot of ethnic minority Vietnamese. Both of these were new to me, so I guess coming across a bunch of new dishes should have been expected. Regardless, I was extremely pleased.
In Dalat, in general, stick to the street food. Most of the restaurants we saw wanted to sell us nachos alfredo or fettuccine burgers or something equally blech-worthy. There are no shortages of adorable roadside and market eateries, so I implore you to take full advantage.
Also, Dalat is a vegetarian heaven. We didn't make much use of it (for no particular reason), but there aren't many towns around that can boast such a high percentage of meatless dining options. I'm really not sure why; I'm guessing it has something to do with monks.
But down to business. If you find yourself in Dalat, these are the four places that I wouldn't miss grabbing a bite at.
1. Bánh Tráng Nướng from this Adorable Lady on Nguyễn Văn Trỗi St.
Bánh tráng nướng are large sheets of rice paper grilled over smoldering coals and topped with all sorts of delightful goodies. I'm sure any day now some jackass will start marketing it as Vietnamese Pizza.
Almost always you'll get an egg, either chicken or quail, cracked on top. Pork, beef, scallions, chili, pounded shrimp, mayo, and Laughing Cow cheese are all viable options as well.
A lot of places fold the bánh tráng in half, but this lady gives you your own set of scissors (along with some chili dipping sauce) so you can dismember it to your personal taste.
I'm pretty sure she only sticks around until lunch, so after 3 or 4 pm her tiny red stools may have disappeared.
61 Nguyễn Văn Trỗi, Ward 2, Da Lat
2. Bánh Căn from Bánh Căn Quỳnh Thanh
Bánh căn are super cool looking rice cakes grilled in little terracotta half dome molds. Often a quail egg is broken inside, then the lids are put on until they cook through. Once unveiled, the two halves are united to form one light, fluffy ball of crisp goodness.
They're usually eaten by themselves dipped in a light fish sauce, but you can also get them like we did with a side of bánh lọc and a steamed rice flour dumpling stuffed with minced pork and mushroom. On the side came the dipping sauce with two of the softest, most tender meatballs I've ever had.
I'm pretty sure this lady is around until 7pm or so but I wouldn't bet anything too valuable on it.
53 Nguyễn Văn Trỗi, Ward 2, Da Lat (just to the left of the pet store)
3. Food Stalls at Chợ Đà Lạt
On the second floor of the large central market you can find all kinds of impressive offerings. The vendors are a little pushy, but take your time and do some perusing. See what's busy (duh) and gather up an assortment of dishes.
We picked some roll-you-own spring rolls, a bowl of bun nem nướng (grilled sausage on vermicelli), and an order of surprisingly tasty bánh khoái.
Chợ Đà Lạt- It's the huge market in the center of town. You can't miss it.
4. Everything at Quán Ăn Cu Đức.
Quán Ăn Cu Đức is the only real sit-down place I'm gonna recommend, but it's a doozy. This highland style eatery specializes in a wide range of meats and vegetables that you grill yourself on an inverted roof tile.
While insanely popular it is in no way geared to western tourists. The staff are friendly but don't expect a lick of English and don't be surprised if you become an object of interest for the surrounding tables.
We had the cá sấu nướng ngói (crocodile with okra and eggplant marinated in turmeric and chili) and the somewhat less exotic but possibly even better tasting bò nướng ngói (house specialty beef filet).
With the meats you get all sorts of nifty accoutrements like green chili and lime dipping sauce, roasted peanuts, a massive sesame rice cracker, seasoned salt, and a very interesting pickled palm fruit that I'm still trying to figure out the name for.
Anybody know these things are called?
Hands down my favorite dish though was the đậu bắp luộc. It translates as just 'boiled okra', but at Quán Ăn Cu Đức they serve it with a clay pot of bubbling fish caramel mixed with some sort of chopped nut.
That's the sauce in the back right.
I can not describe the ground-shaking deliciousness. I'm pretty sure this was one of my favorite dishes we've had the whole trip. Which is why it makes me extra sad that I DON'T KNOW WHAT IT IS!!! Ghawr! Knash! Friggit!
If you can send me a recipe, I'll give you France.
Quán Ăn Cu Đức - 6A Nguyễn Lương Bằng, Ward 2, Đà Lạt.
So there you have it folks. Plenty of eating stops to keep you busy in the temperate oasis of Dalat. Don't blow it.