Just 10km from the city centre, Dien Khanh is one of Nha Trang’s most popular tourist sites. Apart from relics of an ancient citadel, the site includes Thien Loc Pagoda, Trinh Phong Temple and beautiful landscapes of Chua Mountain and surrounding rivers and streams.
Home to the local banh uot (steamed thin rice pancakes) which is sold by shops along the 1A Highway, giving one street the name Banh Uot Dien Khanh for more than 50 years.
Nguyen Thi Lien, 72, a pancake maker in Dien Khanh, said that urbanisation had killed off traditional baking in the village. Visitors wishing to enjoy an original and tasty dish now had to wander around looking for a supply.
Lien said many rural makers, including hers, boast a large house and garden in which they built an oven to make the dish – and added tables and tools. All very simple, but visitors arrive not just to enjoy a good dish, but to relax in comfort.
The suburban version of the pancakes is different from that made downtown, in which the pancakes contain salted and shredded shrimp and fried onions, with dipping sauce made from mam nem (a type of fish sauce, made from small fish or small shrimp).
Lien recalled her mother often woke up early in the morning to go to the beach to buy fresh fish such as tuna and amberjack (a kind of sea fish known locally as ca bo), soaking the insides with salt and fermenting it for three days and then drying it in the sunlight for another three days until it becomes a thick liquid with a special fragrance.
“My mother’s dipping sauce became famous more than half a century ago thanks to her skills,” said Lien, noting that she knew how to mix fried onion, garlic, spice and the mam ruot to become an unforgettable dipping sauce.
Tran Van Hao, from Ha Noi, said he was lucky to enjoy the rural pancakes dipped in mam ruoc, which has no fishy smell and is more tasty than dipping in mam nem.
“It is more enjoyable when minced mangos and tiny chilis are added,” said Hao, noting that with a price of only VND5,000 per plate, he could eat several plates.
At remote Thanh Minh and Phu Loc villages, banh uot makers offer added a special dipping sauce made from fermented fresh ponyfish, giving the dish a distinct flavour. Young gourmet Hoang Thu Hien, said apart from the sauce she liked the fermented ponyfish because it was tiny but sweet and it gave her a good appetite.
Pancake makers in these villages also offer soya sauce for vegetarians on the first and middle days of the lunar month.
To Thi Bay, 64, said soya sauce made by original villagers was more tasty and nutty compared with others. “My recipe is to quick fry minced citronella, tomato and fresh herbs and then pour the soya sauce and spice and stir well. Whether the dipping sauce is tasty or not depends on each maker’s skills,” said Bay.
She said she was trying to teach her children how to make a good dish, particularly the dipping sauce, the soul of the food, in an effort to preserve the venture created by her grandmother more than half of the century ago.”
Those don’t have time to visit her banh uot shop in Phu Loc Village, should enjoy the dish at a shop near the Ong Bo Bridge on the Nha Trang-Thanh Road where guests can also choose aromatic flavor dipping sauces of mam ruot or mam nem.