Tourism in Vietnam’s revered Halong Bay does not solely owe its global appeal to the majestic natural landscapes. It also draws flocks of tourists because of its popular and savory specialties.
So if you’re a foodie, a gourmand, or a gastronomy connoisseur…book a trip, pack your bags and head to Halong Bay! It is renowned for its fresh seafood that is flavored with an exquisite bouquet of herbs.
Cha Muc (Grilled Chopped Squid)
Also known as squid sausage or squid cake, Cha Muc is the most popular food of Quang Ninh province and also included in the list of the top 50 Vietnamese specialty dishes. It was even voted by Asian Record as one of the country’s top 10 most delicious dishes. Obviously the main ingredient is squid, but local fishermen argue that for Cha Muc to be as tasty as it is known for, the squid must exclusively come from Halong Bay.
The secret behind the unique juicy flavor of Cha Muc is patiently grinding up the squid meat by hand. It is then fried in medium heat until the meat turns golden brown. The crunchy and delicate texture of this dish and the mouthwatering aroma goes well with Bánh Cuốn (steamed rice) or Xôi (boiled, sticky rice). The locals take the utmost pride in their Cha Muc because aside from being scrumptious, it is also healthy. The presence of omega-3 in squid lowers blood pressure and helps in reducing the chance of heart disease. Beneficial fatty acids in omega-3 can also improve vision and cognitive function. Food rich in omega-3 is also often recommended to be consumed by pregnant women.
Sam (Horseshoe Crab)
Sam, otherwise known as horseshoe crab, lives in shallow ocean water, so Halong Bay is the ideal habitat for them. In the past, Sam was not used much as food. But over time, the locals have prepared and cooked it into a delicious dish that has become one of the specialties in Halong.
The meat of the crab can be processed into a variety of food including crab salad, pudding crab, sweet and sour crab legs, fried eggs and crab, steamed crabs, fried crab’s cartilage, crab sauté with peppers and lemongrass, stir-fried crab and glass noodle, and so on. However, it appears that tourists prefer grilled crab and sweet and sour crab.
The best thing about Sam is that after it is caught and hauled to shore, it is immediately cooked to perfection. This means the ones in Halong Bay are ALWAYS fresher than you can get anywhere else!
Ngan (Austriella Corrugata)
Ngan is a type of krill. Ironically, Ngan means tasteless in Vietnamese, but the reality is that it is quite delicious and carries a pleasant aftertaste. If you visit Halong, you’ll encounter Ngan in a variety of dishes like grilled, steamed, cooked porridge, and stir-fried with vegetables or noodles. It contains plenty of nutrients like carbohydrates, proteins, vitamin B12, iron and selenium.
Among all products made from Ngan, the most popular is Ngan wine which is made from a mixture of Ngan blood and rice wine. You certainly don’t want to miss the experience of tasting this unique Vietnamese liquor when you come and visit Halong Bay. You can easily find it everywhere, from street food vendors to the posh seafood restaurants in Halong.
Banh Gat Gu (Nodding Cake)
This traditional Vietnamese cake is made from steaming rice flour similar to noodles and spring rolls. What’s unique about this delicacy is that when the dough is ground, cold rice is added so the cake is coated with a fluffy but smooth texture that comparable types of cakes don’t have. After grinding, the cake is steamed into a thick layer of bread that is then rolled without filling and sliced into pieces.
The cake is usually dipped in a special sauce together with a piece of caramelized pork. The sauce is really the highlight of this dish. Having an ‘okay’ or awesome experience with gat gu all depends on the sauce. It’s an excellent choice after feasting on seafood dishes. The cake actually originated in the town of Tien Yen, but you can easily find it in Halong.
Sa Sung (Peanut Worm or Sipunculus Nudus)
This seafood dish is one of the most expensive in Halong Bay and is almost exclusively served in Quan Lan Island. Sung is a type of marine worm that lives under the sand on the sea floor. The people in Halong cook Sa Sung in different ways: it can be fried with garlic or pineapple, grilled with chili salt, roasted and served with chili, lettuce or eaten raw with mustard. Some cook Sa Sung with noodle soup or vermicelli. Others bake them with pepper and salt. Visit one of the upscale restaurants in the bay and you’ll likely find this unique dish on the menu.
Banh Cuon (Vietnamese Steamed Rice Rolls)
Banh cuon is made from steamed fermented rice batter stuffed with a combination of seasoned ground pork, jicama, minced shallots, and minced wood ear mushroom. It gets a sprinkle of crispy fried shallots and a glaze of scallion oil before being served on a bed of thinly sliced cucumbers, blanched bean sprouts, chopped lettuce, Vietnamese herbs, and cha lua (Vietnamese pork sausage). The rolls are often dipped in a local fish sauce called nuoc cham. For added flavor, a drop of ca cuong, which is the essence of a giant water bug, is mixed to the fish sauce, although this particular ingredient is rare and quite expensive.
There are other resplendent dishes awaiting you in Halong Bay such as Van Don Geoduck, Chao Ha (acorn barnacle porridge), Bun Be Be (noodles with mantis shrimp), Ga Loi Am Nuong (loi am grilled chicken), drunken prawn and lobster, sour meatball Quang Yen, among others.
These local specialties will surely make you fall in love with Halong Bay, so make sure you try them when you come to visit. And now that you know what food to eat, let’s have a rundown of the most popular restaurants in Halong…
Location: adjacent to Cat Ba Island
There are several floating restaurants off the coast of Cat Ba Island. They are known for serving a wide variety of seafood dishes. Take your pick then the chef will pluck live seafood from floating cages and cook whatever you ordered right on the spot! It will be fried, grilled or steamed in no time. You can’t get fresher seafood than this!
Location: D 1-4 | Cat Ba Town, Cat Ba Island
Tel: +84 (031) 88 7151
This is one of the top options on Cat Ba Island if you’re after a restaurant with quality food and service. Green Mango boasts an extensive menu ranging from succulent steaks and tapas to fresh seafood. It also serves other Asian delicacies and some Western dishes too.
Customers can dine outdoors and enjoy the harbor view or relax in a cozy and warm indoor setting. Green Mango is the perfect spot for customers who are looking for a quiet nook where they can also enjoy a glass of wine or cocktail. It is open seven days a week, from 6:30 am till 11:00 pm. It’s pretty much open the whole day so you can bring along your friends and family for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Huu Dung Restaurant
Location: Nui Ngoc St., Cat Ba Island
Tel: +84 (031) 888407
A lot of tourists troop to this restaurant because it offers an amazing view of the bay that is complemented by a great seafood menu and first-rate service. The house special is whole steamed fish that’s exquisitely flavored with generous lashings of garlic and soy sauce. Other staples on the menu include battered shrimp, spring rolls, and fried cuttlefish.
Noble House Bar & Restaurant
Location: heart of Cat Ba Island, next to the post office
Tel: +84 (031) 888363
A cozy place owned by an Australian, Noble House Restaurant has always impressed tourists who wish to relax while enjoying delectable Vietnamese or Western food. Every serving is prepared with delicious flavor while keeping the essential seafood tang.
Linh Dan Restaurant
Location: No.104, Bai Chay Street, Halong City (Bai Chay)
Tel: +84 33 6522696 or +84 3846025
This restaurant has a contemporary and luxurious style that offers a novella-length menu and ample space for more than 200 guests. The popularity of this chic and stylish resto is guaranteed by its professionally trained staff that can serve mouth-watering dishes from a diverse menu of Vietnamese, Asian and European cuisine.
Location: C342-343, Old Street Zone, Halong City (Bai Chay)
Avocado is one of Halong Bay’s nicest looking restaurants with a cozy ambiance and excellent food. It’s among the best in the region as evidenced by its Google review rating of 4.5/5. With its contemporary design, Avocado offers venue for private events and for lunches and dinners in a bar/lounge, in-house and outdoor dining.
A must-try recommendation in this intimate, open-kitchen restaurant is the Halong squid cake with sticky rice. Avocado is an ideal dining spot where you can enjoy a modern European, vegetarian or traditional Vietnamese fine dining in Halong Bay. By the way, they serve exceptional cocktails too!