During my recent visit to Da Nang, in Central Vietnam, known for its long stretch of beach on the coast of South China Sea and for history as a French colonial port, I had the pleasure to chat about French influences in modern Vietnamese food to Intercontinental Sun Peninsula Resort’s executive chef Didier Jacob.
“Pho, Vietnamese’s national dish, was essentially created based on French classic beef consommé, or broth. The same way duck liver pate and baguette are the main ingredients of Banh mi, one of Vietnam’s most popular street snacks," he said.
According to the friendly Mauritius chef, herbs and condiments such as fresh coriander, Vietnamese mint, aniseed, red chili and cinnamon, were added by locals to the French staples, making the fusion of the two cultures evidently present in today’s culinary scene. Despite the European colonisation to the Asian country being as brief as from late 1800s to 1940s, French architecture, food and even the language are an intrinsic part of Vietnamese culture.
Didier’s passion for his job is unmistakable as he walks around the hotel’s Citron restaurant, greeting guests and ensuring all are having a enjoyable stay. Besides Citron, the resort is home to three other eateries, including the beautifully designed Maison, a three Michelin-star, and fine dining French establishment. Barefoot, their laid-back beach restaurant, serves fresh seafood and Italian inclined dishes, and Long bar, as the name suggests, is a long stretch of black and white striped day beds, accommodating entire families in a very relaxing setting. The perfect place for a light meal, as well as refreshing tropical cocktails.
The architectural award-winning hotel is set overlooking dramatic views of Monkey Bay’s tropical rainforest, and is divided between four ample levels - Heaven, Sky, Earth and Sea. As the hotel’s map location suggests, impromptu visits by its star residents, swinging from tree to tree in a playful dance, is a common sight. It turns out the clever mammals are not just good at juggling between trees, but they know how to help themselves to the mini bars in the luxury bedrooms. Here is a tip, if you’re not too fond about forking the mini bar bill for a chimp, keep your balcony’s door locked while not in the room.
As part of Tet’s traditions (Vietnamese New Year), which is celebrated around cooler months, locals enjoy a cup (or more) of Riau Vang Da Lai Long, which is a warm, mulled red wine made with aniseed, cinnamon, and meticulously diced orange, lime and pineapple. Lucky enough to try, the flavours reminded me of the coziness of Australian and Brazilian autumn, and I suddenly remembered that after all, this was in fact Vietnamese “winter”.
Set just over an hour’s drive from the 5-star resort, the well-preserved, former port-city of Hoi An, is a mix of eras and styles. From wooden Chinese shophouses and temples, to colourful French colonial buildings, to Vietnamese houses, and the iconic Japanese Covered Bridge, the riverside town was overflowing with tourists and noisy motorbikes. A little too busy to my liking, yet the picturesque ancient town is still a must visit site. Better yet, the hotel has a free-shuttle daily service to Hoi-An, so it’s a no-brainer.
PS: I have no affiliations with Danang's Intercontinental Resort. This is my honest opinion, based on a recent experience at the hotel.