Eat and meet
Kon TumKon Tum has a regional specialty, but unfortunately there's a catch. Several popular spots around town specialise in 'wild game', also known as 'specialty meats.' If you're one of those gourmands who likes to try everything, it may seem tempting, but the problem is, it's illegal. Perhaps moreso than elsewhere in the country, over-hunting is a serious problem in the area, so the government has outlawed the sale of wild game in restaurants. Somehow, a number of places manage to skirt the law. The practice is driven by local demand, not tourism, so it's between you and your conscience whether you participate. Now you know.
But there are culinary adventures to be had without wiping out endangered species. There's a string of restaurants along Nguyen Hue Street east of Tran Phu that offer beef and goat meat, grilled and in hot pots. The selections here can get very exotic for westerners. We checked out Quan 56, with it's beef specialties -- be thui (slow-roasted calf), la xach hap (beef tripe), tuy ba hap (cow brains) da tuong tron, (cow stomach with lungs and vegetables) and, of course, luoi (tongue), be sua (udders), and Can So and Hop So (penis and testicles, respectively). All of this is actually delicious, grilled on a hibachi on the table, making for a very convivial atmosphere, and before you turn pale at the thought, remember that you've eaten all of these cow parts before if you've ever eaten a sausage!
If you don't eat meat (or if, after reading the above, you've suddenly given it up) there are two vegetarian options on the same street: Quan Chay, 33 Le Loi, and right across the road and further down, Nghia Vegetarian Restaurant, at 12 Le Loi -- mains are priced at less than 10,000 VND a plate.
Kon Tum is a meat-loving town, but there is one regional specialty, goi la, which bucks the trend and is a highly recommended if you can find it. It consists of 20 different kinds of fresh leaves, which are wrapped around dollops of rice yeast, baby shrimp and pork. You make your own, so if you don't eat meat, you can just leave it out. Half the leaves are farm grown, but the rest have to be gathered by foraging in the forest. More than any other meal, this will give you a taste of Kon Tum, and it's hard to find anywhere else. There are several places around town that have it on the menu, but certain ingredients are only available on special market days, so you're not likely to get the full experience. We had an excellent feast with some locals, accompanied by freely-flowing rice wine, at a place located at 21 Tran Cao Van. In order to avoid taxes, the owner runs the restaurant out of her home, and only on Friday through Sunday (Hours: 08:00 to 19:00) It's a bit hard to find, but if you head east past the cave shrine on Tran Hung Dao, Tran Cao Van is a dirt road on the right, and the 'restaurant' is just down the street on the right. There's a small sign reading 'Goi La' and the owner sets up tables in the front room of her house.
There are plenty of noodle joints where you can sit on tiny stools at long tables -- if you don't mind putting up with filthy floors to enjoy some surprisingly savoury dishes. But, for consistently good, reasonably priced food in a nice, clean, relaxed, sit-down atmosphere, you might try Hiep Thanh -- we found that the chicken and rice, mixed with dollops of butter and flavoured with garlic, really hit the spot. The traditional rice dish, Bun Kho, is available throughout town, but we found the best place to experience it was to venture into the crowded central market and sit down at one of the stall. You'll find colourfully-arranged plates of different kinds of glutinous 'rice pasta,' covered with chopped spring onions. When you pick a plate, a sweet pork broth is poured over it, along with anything to choose to add on top, such as cha nam (deep fried spring rolls), cha lua (pressed pork in a banana leaf) and banh cuon, (a kind of rice-flour burrito filled with bean paste). It's a much tastier and satisfying meal than you might imagine from the description, and it's dirt cheap.
For coffee and drinks, Kon Tum is home to Eva Coffee, a truly incongruous site in an otherwise modest and unassuming town. It's a very pretty, carefully designed place with a pleasant atmosphere -- seating is mostly indoor-outdoor, near the backyard garden. It features a man-made waterfall fountain that powers a paddle wheel which is connected to ropes and pulleys that cause a variety of traditional gongs hanging overhead to be struck at irregular intervals, like wind chimes. It's a local technique for scaring birds off of crops, but it provides fun, if slightly disconcerting background music. Food is not served but if you call ahead they can cater a group meal.
Kon Tum isn't much for nightlife, but the top floor of the Indochine Hotel is a great place in fair weather for an evening drink and panoramic views. On rainy days, the Romantic Restaurant on the seventh floor provides river views as well. It's the one place in town you can get a bit of western-style food -- minestrone soup, crinkle cut French fries, pork chops, and bacon omelettes for breakfast. It's mostly an event room, and you may be the only people dinning on any given evening, but the views compensate. If you've taken a liking to Bia Tuoi on your visit to Vietnam, there's a good place right next to the bus station, and several other spots as you head out of town, north and south, on Highway 14.
Eva Cafe 1 Phan Chu Trinh Rd, Kon Tum. T: (060) 862 944 firstname.lastname@example.org
Goi La: 21 Tran Cao Van, Kon Tum.
Hiep Thanh: 129 Nguyen Hue St, Kon Tum. T: (060) 862 470
Quan 56: 56 Nguyen Hue, Kon Tum. T: (060) 865 753, (0914) 156 921
Romantic Restaurant: 7th floor, Indochine Hotel, Kon Tum. T: (060) 863 334
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