Some excellent local eating is to be found in Buon Ma Thuot, especially around the market. Migration from other parts of the country means you’ll find a variety of dishes from other regions.
For breakfast, it’s of course noodle soup. Pho Gia Truyen at 18 Quan Trung Street hits the spot and a mouth watering bowl with beef or chicken is just 30,000 dong.
For morning bread and to load up on bus snacks, Hanoi Bakery on Le Hong Phong Street has buns, baguettes, banh mi sandwiches, cookies and drinks.
Com Saigon serves up the typical lunchtime meal of rice plus your choice of meat, tofu and vegetables. You also get a bowl of soup with an interesting sour tang from the addition of pineapple. Add a fresh lime juice and your meal is only 50,000 dong. It’s located a block east of the main roundabout, across the street from Gia Dinh Guesthouse.
For something other than ubiquitous pho, Son Thuy does a Chinese-influenced noodle soup with fresh yellow noodles, pork and wontons (mi hoanh thanh), 30,000 dong. The eatery also does a large plate of fried rice (com chien duong chau) which comes with a small bowl of soup, only 25,000 dong. Son Thuy is open in the evening and is located at 38 Quang Trung, at the edge of the night market.
Also close to the market on 37 Ly Thuong Kiet Street is Zone 8, a bustling local joint with a great atmosphere and their dishes and hot pot are ideal for sharing. Tables come ready with a plate of peanuts (10,000 dong) and the quick service ensures there’s always a cold beer in hand – or for groups, a beer tower of draught beer (220,000 dong). Dishes feature your choice of meat (pigeon, beef, chicken, pork or seafood). The fried chicken wings with sauce (canh ga chien mam) for 60,000 dong is sensational. Zone 8 also has a few Buon Ma Thuot ethnic minority specialities, including “rau rung”, jungle greens made into a tasty stir-fry with garlic, and com lam, sticky white rice that’s been stuffed into bamboo and grilled, served with a dry dip of finely minced lemongrass and ground peanuts. The rice is crunchy on the outside, soft and sticky on the inside and imbued with a nutty aroma from the grill.
Directly across the street are a row of four nem nuong shops that all serve the same finger food feast of grilled pork you make into wraps with rice paper, vermicelli, veg, herbs and dipping sauce. Touts in front are very pushy to get you into their restaurant. The nem nuong is just average but filling. Beware, the tasty sweet-peanut dipping sauce is usually loaded with MSG.
Around the night market you’ll find great street eats and warm drinks perfect for Buon Ma Thuot’s cooler evenings: steamed buns, deep fried sticky rice cakes stuffed with pork, hot milk sua nong and hot soy milk sua dau nanh. Also at these drinks stand is rau ma, a cold juice made from a leaf. We were told it’s the best hangover cure. And we were also told not to drink it if you’re suffering from diarrhea.
Passing this particular noodle soup stand, you’d never think much of it. Located in a lonely alley beside 27 Nguyen Cong Tru, this mom and pop operation has an absolutely delicious version of banh canh, made with fresh noodles and chunks of fish. The biggest challenge will be sitting on the ridiculously low plastic stools, worth the struggle since each bowl is only 15,000 dong. Get there early in the evening, this one sells out quickly.
Finally for dessert, grab che, the typical Vietnamese dessert of sweet soups, usually served cold but you can get it hot, che nong. Ask for che thap cam and they’ll give you a sweet cold soup with a whole mix: broad beans, green beans, jellies, coconut, sticky rice and all sorts of different fruit. You’ll find these stands all over the night market. We loved Che Linh, located on the sidewalk in front of 98 Phan Boi Chau and returned every night to indulge in an avocado shake and a plate of ice piled high with fresh strawberries and coconut milk for 25,000 dong.
Dak Lak province is a key producer in Vietnam’s coffee industry and you’re never far from a strong cup of thick Vietnamese coffee. Trung Nguyen Cafe is surprisingly swish, but you’d expect nothing less from the coffee baron-mega-company. This cafe is a chain yet this location has plenty of character. No painfully low plastic stools here. The large, sleek and breezy traditional pavilion has rich black lacquered pillars, wood beams and ornate lanterns to set the mood. There are tables, comfortable chairs as well as platforms with low coffee tables and floor cushions. A fancy coffee with your choice of roast and blend (descriptions are in English as well) will set you back 40,000 VND. There’s also food, rice dishes with meat and veg costing between 52,000 and 75,000 VND. It wouldn’t be Vietnam if they didn’t try to throw in a tourist angle and at the back, there’s a fake stone water feature, a large indoor display dedicated to coffee and a shop selling, you guessed it, coffee. You won’t see it unless you seek it out though. Trung Nguyen Cafe is shy of three kilometres from the city centre, attached to Coffee Tour Resort.
Com Saigon: 16/4-16/6 Hung Vuong; T: (0500) 385 3312; open daily 09:00-21:00.
Hanoi Bakery: 123-125 Le Hong Phong; T: (0500) 385 3609; open daily 06:00-21:00.
Pho Gia Truyen: 18 Quang Trung St
Son Thuy: 38 Quang Trung St; T: (0500) 385 1404.
Trung Nguyen Coffee: 149-153 Ly Thai To St; T: (0500) 395 8868; open daily 06:00-22:00.
Zone 8: 37 Ly Thuong Kiet; T: (0500) 370 6666; open daily 08:30 until last customer.