Banh Mí and Borscht: The Vietnamese City that Feels like Russia

Banh Mí and Borscht: The Vietnamese City that Feels like Russia

Tantalisingly fragrant banh mí sandwiches and piping-hot bowls of Russian borscht aren’t your typical duo, but they coexist in the coastal Vietnamese city of Nha Trang

I rolled up on my ramshackle Yamaha Nouvo scooter – somehow
without breaking down – Nha Trang’s differences were glaring:
blinking neon signs glared cyrillic script, sun-bleached menus were
covered in Russian dishes and throngs of tanned vacationers spoke
in a new-to-me language that confused my wearied ears after weeks
of bending my brain to Vietnamese.

In Nha Trang, Russian tour agencies rub shoulders with elderly
Vietnamese grandmothers selling their family recipes. Some of the
women have adapted to their new neighbours by translating their
tasty offerings into Russian, whereas the rest adhere to a “what
you see is what you get” mentality, garnering their business solely
through the hypnotic smells of sweet minced pork and robust chilli
sauce. Spoiler alert: it works just as well.

Nha Trang is a confusing place, albeit enticing at the same
time. With powder-soft shorelines and low prices that’ll have you
feeling like a lottery winner, it’s no wonder that this city has
become an expat favourite. But why here, of all less-obscure

Some digging is required to understand this place, gazing back
to a time before any of Nha Trang’s streets were introduced to the
likes of pelmeni and beef stroganoff. This whole party started back
in 1979 when the Russian Navy began using nearby Cam Ranh Bay as a
naval base. Similar to most who have ever visited the city, they
thought “damn, it’s pretty great here”, and word spread faster than
you can wolf down a $1 bowl of pho… which is considerably rapid, if
you’re me.

Stories of Russians packing up from the motherland and
resettling in Nha Trang are abundant, with plot lines ranging from
opening restaurants to working in local Russian-catered tourism
agencies. I had heard scattered rumours of a “Little Moscow” from
fellow travellers before arriving, and I must admit, the intensity
of it exceeded my expectations.

An initially planned two-day stay steamrolled into four, tumbled
into six, and then magnetically pulled me in for two more final
days. Each and every “screw it, I’m staying longer” proclamation
brought me down to hostel reception to ask for an extension, where
the always-chipper Vietnamese receptionist probably assumed he
would never get rid of me. That, my friends, is how you know a
place has grabbed you more than you ever would have expected.

Condensation-coated mango cocktails with a stately, shoeless
view of the shoreline were just the beginning. The distinctive
intersection between weird and wonderful is what makes Nha Trang
stand out in my mind. Regardless of where you call home – Saigon,

St Petersburg
or somewhere in between – there’s more than
enough room to feel included in this welcoming nook of the

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