A Dalat street food tour is a must when you visit Vietnam’s southern Central Highlands city. Famed for its fertile volcanic soil, beautiful fresh local produce, and coffee, tea, and wine, the former French colonial hill station is a fantastic foodie destination, and its street food is a real highlight.
Don’t even think about doing anything for dinner in Dalat but a street food tour. Vietnam’s southern Central Highlands city of Dalat has a brilliant street food scene but while most visitors head to Dalat Night Market, locals assured us that wasn’t where Dalat’s best street food was to be savoured.
While Dalat foodies claim that its local cooks invented some of Dalat’s most beloved street food specialties, most of the dishes we tried were Vietnamese street food favourites that have been given a local, and very delicious, Dalat twist. Not that we were complaining. Dalat, we were to learn, is home to some of Vietnam’s tastiest street food food and a Dalat street food tour with a local foodie was definitely the way to discover it.
Tip: wear comfy shoes as you’ll be hiking the hilly streets of Dalat for a few hours.
If you’re in Dalat or planning a trip, see our one day in Dalat itinerary which includes our Dalat accommodation tips and our post on Dalat’s best coffee tours.
Dalat Street Food Tour – A Taste of Dalat Style Vietnamese Street Food
We kicked off our Dalat street food tour with our local guide Binh from Dalat Street Food Tours just before dusk. The lovely and funny Binh, who we’d spent the day with, touring the countryside and tea and coffee plantations around Dalat, met us at our grand lodgings, the historic Dalat Hotel Du Parc, and from there we set off on foot.
First stop on our Dalat street food tour was a modest fluoro-lit eatery ran by a humble woman who has been cooking up Vietnamese street food favourites for ten years.
At a low plastic table on the footpath outside we sampled the first of her two top-sellers, a Dalat style banh beo (bánh bèo Đà Lạt), that Binh told us was softer than the Hue style because she steams a mixture of tapioca, dried shrimps and her own fish sauce, resulting in a silky smooth texture.
We followed this with another Dalat specialty xap xap, invented by the woman’s sister, who rides her bicycle up and down the hilly streets of Dalat each evening making and selling the incredibly popular snack from the back of her bike.
Xap xap consists of a crunchy green papaya salad with sweet and salty pork intestine jerky, fresh zingy basil, and a delightfully tangy tamarind sauce. Perfectly balanced and full of contrasting textures and flavours, it was a revelation.
Next up we sampled Dalat’s very own Vietnamese ‘pizza’, banh Trang nuong (bánh Tráng nướng), the city’s most loved street food snack, from an adjoining stall. Found after dark on every footpath, street corner, and the stalls that fill Dalat’s night market, Dalat pizza is deservedly popular.
Made from crispy rice paper, grilled over fire and charcoal, slathered with beaten quail egg, then sprinkled with an array of toppings that might include dried shrimp, ground pork or sausage, spring onions, and cheese, it can be eaten in slices or rolled up. It was divine. We could easily have eaten more but were warned there’d be a lot more street food to come. And there was!
After a short but absolutely fascinating amble up and down the hilly backstreets of the city, a generous spread of Dalat style nem nướng followed in a convivial little corner eatery that was jam-packed with friendly locals. Everyone seemed up for a chat.
Dalat style nem nuong (nem nướng) consisted of grilled pork patties and crispy fried pork rind that had to be rolled up in dry sheets of rice paper (yes, dry) along with fresh fragrant herbs and greens, including sweet basil, mint, perilla, chives, and lettuce, and pickled shallots, carrot and radish.
Once done, Binh instructed us to dip our messy rolls into a thick, sour, slightly fermented peanut sauce. Once again, it was – like all the best Vietnamese street food dishes – a brilliant balance of textures and flavours.
The cha ram bap (chả ram bắp) – crispy, fried sweet corn rolled up with pickled radish, carrot, and shallots in rice paper rolls – also dipped into a thick, peanut sauce, was a real delight as well.
After another hike up and down hills, our Dalat street food tour came to a close with enormous bowls of spicy Dalat cari vit, a Dalat style Vietnamese duck curry, made to the cook’s mother’s secret recipe. We slurped the over-sized bowls, redolent of spice, from more tiny plastic stools on a ledge down a darkened lane. For me, it was the most delicious dish of our Dalat street food tour.
After another amble through the bright, lively, neon-lit streets, we arrived at our final spot. Dessert? Nightcap? It was something in between. Once again, we did as the locals do and we plopped ourselves onto squat plastic stools on the road outside the hole-in-the-wall soy milk shop, Quan Hoa Sua (Quán Hoa Sữa, 64 Tăng Bạt Hổ), along with scores of local devotees of their warming hot soy milk drinks.
Warming? Did I forget to mention that Dalat gets chilly? The average temperature throughout the year is just 18 Celsius. We got to choose from a selection of comforting soy drinks, including a plain hot soy milk, a green bean flavoured milk, a peanut milk, corn milk, and – my choice – a thick, black, muddy, sesame drink. I surprised myself by finishing the whole glass.
The waitress delivered a plate of French pastries with our drinks, which we nibbled at, as you do when you can’t squeeze another morsel in but you’re on a street food tour, so how can you not sample everything?
A note in case you’re visiting without a local: you pay for what you eat – even if it’s just a nibble. The waitress will tally your nibbles and add them to your hot drinks bill when you’re done. And when you’re done, be prepared to move on quickly. Don’t expect to linger. Tables are turned fast in Dalat. But don’t worry, there’s more street food to discover.
We included Binh’s street food on our Vietnam Culinary Tour and we’ll include it again on our next trip. We’ll be setting new dates very soon so do let us know if you’d like to join us.
Have you done any Dalat street food tours? We’d love to hear about your feedback in the comments below.