How Chef Duc Tran Transforms Vietnam’s Food Scene

Plus, 5 of his restaurants that you need to put on your list for Hoi An.

You can quickly tell that Chef Duc Tran is the type of guy everybody likes instantly. He’s laidback, has a permanent smile on his face and likes to say things like “Let’s boogie.” It’s this open, carefree personality which led him to travel while cooking for people all over the world, and eventually become Hoi An’s most celebrated chef today. His food and restaurants reflect Duc Tran’s colorful, uplifting personality. He has created many spaces in which visitors can experience the best of Vietnam’s charming flavors and hospitality.

Chef Duc Tran.
Chef Duc Tran. Photo: Nadia Cho

Before settling in Hoi An sixteen years ago, Chef Duc traveled extensively all over the world and adapted the flavors of every region and continent into his cooking. Mexican and Latin flavors in particular play an essential role, owing to his Mexican-American family who adopted him when he came to Texas as a refugee.

“I was well-received by my Mexican American family, fresh off the plane. And they took me in with lots of love and they gave me roof, they gave me food, they gave me drink, and I was extremely happy. Amazing thing was, I didn’t speak any of their languages, English or Spanish. But they gave me all the love that I needed at 17 years old.

I came back to Vietnam to visit my family. But when I came to Hoi An in 1997, I found the market amazing and bountiful of food. I came back to Vietnam and opened one restaurant called Mango Rooms. And 16 years later I’m running a few other restaurants: Mango Mango, Mai Fish, Fat Fish in Da Nang and recently ThirtySeven Woodfired Grill. Working with local ingredients and local talent. And here I am, back to the roots again.”

Duc Tran and Ben Attwater.
Duc Tran and Ben Attwater. Photo: Nadia Cho

Chef Duc currently runs four restaurants in Hoi An and one in Da Nang . He is a master at whipping up a delectable one-of-a-kind menu for each of his restaurants. He creatively fuses his passion for Vietnamese culinary traditions with his extensive knowledge of other food cultures. Only in Hoi An will you find restaurants that serve Vietnamese-Mexican, Vietnamese-Japanese and Vietnamese-Mediterranean cuisine. Each of Chef Duc’s restaurants is an outlet for a different type of fusion which he created. His restaurants include:

Mango Rooms

Mango Rooms was Chef Duc’s first restaurant in Hoi An. The cuisine is a delicious blend of Vietnamese and Mexican, with a dash of Japanese and Thai. The entire space is painted in vivid turquoise, reds and yellows. It’s the perfect place to snack on Vietnamese tuna ceviche with a cold beer in hand. Take in the bright colors and upbeat salsa music, and you’ll feel like you’ve found the perfect Latin-Vietnamese heaven you didn’t know you needed.

Mango Rooms.
Mango Rooms. Photo: Nadia Cho

Mango Mango

Mango Mango a larger extension of Mango Rooms, located right in front of the river. It’s got three floors of seating, three separate bars, a patio, a balcony and a large open kitchen. The menu leans more towards Vietnamese-Japanese fusion with other Asian influences mixed in as well. The beverage menu is more extensive here, thanks to the fully stocked Whale Spirit Bar out back. With ample space, vivacious décor and live music, Mango Mango is the place to go if you’re looking to have a fun night out on the town with all your friends.

Mango Mango
Mango Mango. Photo: Nadia Cho

 

Mango Mango.
Mango Mango. Photo: Nadia Cho

Mai Fish

Chef Duc opened Mai Fish when he missed his mother and sister’s traditional Southern Vietnamese cooking. There’s no fusion here. It’s all back to his native roots. You’ll find the most authentic preparations of Vietnamese staples with clean flavors to highlight the freshness of the ingredients, which often come straight from the market or the boat the same day.

Hoi An Fish Market
Hoi An Fish Market. Photo: Nadia Cho

 

Hoi An Fish market.
Hoi An Fish market. Photo: Nadia Cho

 

Hoi An market
Hoi An market. Photo: Nadia Cho

ThirtySeven Woodfired Grill + Bar

ThirtySeven Woodfired Grill + Bar is Chef Duc’s newest venture in Hoi An, in collaboration with Ben Attwater. The space is consists of two large patios, one facing the kitchen and the other facing the river, as well as a stylish bar in front. As the name suggests, ThirtySeven focuses on fire grilled cuts of meat and seafood, smoked to perfection in the outdoor brick oven. Hanging throughout the restaurant are striking metallic and wooden art pieces, crafted by Chef Duc himself. ThirtySeven presents the region’s excellent local bounty and artistry through a more elevated dining concept.

ThirtySeven Woodfired Grill.
ThirtySeven Woodfired Grill. Photo: Nadia Cho

 

ThirtySeven Woodfired Grill
ThirtySeven Woodfired Grill. Photo: Nadia Cho

Fatfish

Fatfish is located in the beachside city of Da Nang, just a little north of Hoi An. It’s Chef Duc’s outpost for Vietnamese-Mediterranean cuisine. There are fabulous preparations of seafood, duck, steak and pork, as well as yummy pizzas and cheese boards.

The exceptional quality of the ingredients, all sourced from the local area, mean a lot to Chef Duc. His simple and elegant preparations of most dishes show off the natural flavors of the produce, meat and fish from the region. The pride he has in his roots and community is ingrained in everything he cooks. At any one of his restaurants, guests can experience the most genuine, welcoming version of Vietnamese hospitality.

“I create Vietnamese dishes with the five Vietnamese tastes: salty, sweet, sour, bitter and savory. That’s five senses interacting with your mind. The five tastes are well balanced and the fragrance of the herbs complete your senses. And when your senses awake, people are happy. And the body is happy. And that’s the experience that I want to bring to the customers, to friends and family. Healthy, high quality fresh food by using local ingredients, where it doesn’t have to go too far. That’s a guarantee that you’ll have a happy healthy meal.”

Grilled squid.
Grilled squid. Photo: Nadia Cho

 

Stuffed pumpkin flower.
Stuffed pumpkin flower. Photo: Nadia Cho

 

Lotus seed hummus.
Lotus seed hummus. Photo: Nadia Cho

 

Vietnamese tuna ceviche.
Vietnamese tuna ceviche. Photo: Nadia Cho

Nadia Cho

Communications Associate

Nadia reps Team JST traveling the world in search of exclusive features and online via JST's social media platforms. You can find her exploring metropolitan cities or lounging on tropical beaches.

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