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Hẻm Gems: Nha Trang's 22-Year-Old Bánh Canh Cá Sings the Praises of the Sea

Traveling in Nha Trang wouldn't be complete without tasting this delicious bowl of bánh canh which makes you enjoy eating almost every part of the fish, from its meat to its organs.

This dish has been part of many Nha Trang people’s daily meals, and it makes for such a complete, memorable fish soup bowl in this fishery beach city. You can grab this bánh canh at the corner of Trần Văn Ơn and Yersin street, and the eatery has existed there for more than 20 years.

One normal serving of bánh canh costs VND30,000. It contains chả cá (grilled chopped fish), lòng cá (fish organ), trứng cá (fish roe), cá dầm (steamed fish meat) and trứng cút (quail egg). The fish ingredients are from tuna and many other kinds of fish. If you want, you can get a special serving that costs VND40,000 and additional ingredients will be added for a greater experience, like da heo (pork skin) and chả lụa (Vietnamese pork sausage or pork bologna).

“She can make a variety of cooking styles from fish. The cook really makes use of the local natural resources from Nha Trang’s sea for this dish. She doesn’t import ingredients from somewhere else, but uses original products available locally and makes a disparate combination of fish meal in one bowl. It’s a great and interesting blend,” Hồ Đăng Tiến said.

Tiến is from Huế and now works in Nha Trang as a cable TV engineer. He has been eating at this place for almost 20 years. He recalled that he was still young and single the first time he ate here. Now he’s married with two children, and he still enjoys eating this bánh canh. For him, eating here a few times a week has become his favorite routine habit. “The fish flavor of the soup emits a deliciously fragrant smell and I don’t get bored eating it. Truly, it makes the typical taste of this seaside city,” Tiến added.

The most memorable thing is that this bánh canh street eatery has been located in the same spot for years. The owner hasn’t moved her business elsewhere and it has become a familiar place of people living in Nha Trang.

Lâm Thi, an immigrant from Quảng Ngãi living in Nha Trang, has eaten at this place for 20 years. He said: “This bánh canh place has become a famous brand by itself in Nha Trang. Everybody calls it ‘Bánh canh Trần Văn Ơn.’ You can find bánh canh in some restaurants within Nha Trang, but no other place can be compared to this street eatery. This one is the most delicious I have ever tried.”

“One of the most interesting things is that this is a street eatery located on the sidewalk. It has a friendly open atmosphere and is not covered with walls, like the restaurants. Inside some restaurants, you may be treated with different attitudes according to your appearance. However this street eatery always happily welcomes everybody and its prices are affordable,” Mai Thanh Trung said.

Trung is from Ninh Hoà and works around Khánh Hoà Province as a medical representative. Every time he gets the chance to work in Nha Trang, he never fails to visit to enjoy a bowl of bánh canh. Ten years ago, he first ate here when he was studying as a vocational student. Now he is studying to upgrade himself and get a bachelor's degree while working. He said that  Điệp, the owner Bánh canh Trần Văn Ơn, has fed him for the last 10 years.

“She has treated me like her son. Most often, she serves me more food than normal to make sure that I am satisfied and my stomach is full. There are times when she would also let me eat for free when I was short on cash,” he smiled and shared. “I feel this bánh canh is like my delicious homecoming dish and this street eatery is like my family. Whenever I’m still in Nha Trang, I come to eat it. If I would stay far away, I think that I would have to ask Mrs. Điệp to deliver this food to me.”  

Điệp is the nickname of Nguyễn Thị Minh Trang, an original Nha Trang resident. She is 65 years old and she has run this bánh canh spot since 1999, when the price was just VND1,000 per serving.

She has five children, two of whom have passed away, while two daughters got married. Now she lives with her husband and son. Her husband is 70 years old and a veteran of the American War. She didn’t want to share much further about her son and just simply said that he has an illness.

Trang is the only one who supports her family financially. “I sit here to run this street eatery from 10:30am to about 5pm every day. My skin has adapted to the heavy heat of the sun. I just wish that I’m always healthy to keep working to support my family. I’m not confident that my food is one of the most delicious in this city, but I think that god has blessed my business a lot. That’s why many locals and tourists visit my eatery,” she said.

She shared that she loves her work so much and selling on the street like this makes her happy. Sometimes her close and loyal customers would pass by and would tease her: “Hello Bà Tám. You are still alive and working. When will you retire?” She would tease back: “I will retire when I am inside the coffin.”

“Bà Tám” is another nickname of Trang. As to why she got this dear nickname, here is the reason: Many high school students often visit here as a favorite place to eat. They also spend a lot of time sitting here to chat. Vietnamese calls someone ”Bà Tám” (Madame Eight) if one loves chatting and gossiping a lot.

“There are two high schools near here. After class, many students often come to my place to eat and ‘tám.’ They all wear white uniforms and they look like a herd of storks that flock here every evening,” Mrs. Tám poetically shared.

A hospital is nearby too, and people often come to eat bánh canh and she always serves her food for free to patients with a serious illness. “The rich people can do charity using their money, but since I don’t have much money I give them bowls of bánh canh. It makes me feel happy when I have a chance to be the giver,” bà Tám said.

This fish soup bowl has stayed deeply in the memories of Nha Trang people not only because it is delicious, but also because it is filled with friendliness and the love.

Bánh Canh Cá Trần Văn Ơn is open from 9am to 9pm.

Bánh canh cá

Intersection of Yersin and Tran Van On

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