The distinction between a good hotel and a truly exceptional one lies in the minutiae. While many travelers appreciate features like ornate wallpaper, unique pillow embellishments, or high-quality hairdryers, these details often escape my notice. However, during a recent trip, I encountered a hotel amenity that I can wholeheartedly endorse.
The Intercontinental Da Nang, a property crafted by the design wizard Bill Bensley, is brimming with hidden treasures waiting to be discovered. Nestled within a nature reserve along Vietnam’s central coastline, the carpeting depicts playful monkeys, verandas offer breathtaking bay views framed by carefully manicured greenery, and even the staff’s uniforms subtly blend with the black and white buildings. Not a single detail is overlooked. But the true gem of this hotel can be found beside the pool.
Every day, like clockwork at 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. (I inquired about the times after missing it once), a gentleman strolls around the pool’s edge, offering guests a small piece of corn on the cob.
It wasn’t particularly extravagant. It wasn’t slathered in caviar or dripping with butter. It was a modest two-inch section of steamed yellow corn, slightly warm, and served without a napkin. Yet, every kernel was remarkably delicious.
Perhaps corn on the cob doesn’t sound that surprising. After all, it’s a common side dish at barbecues and a popular street snack in many countries, including Vietnam. Nevertheless, it’s a departure from the typical poolside snacks at hotels, which usually consist of fresh fruit, and if you’re lucky, some French fries.
However, offering corn as a poolside snack was no accident. “People in Vietnam associate corn on the cob with relaxation,” shared Chef Doan Thi Thu, who works at the hotel. “We chose steamed corn for the poolside snack because it’s light and easy to eat, perfect after a swim.”
It turns out corn is a significant culinary element in Vietnam, extending far beyond the poolside. After indulging in relaxation by the pool, I ventured to Hoi An, an ancient port city along Vietnam’s central coast, an hour’s drive from Da Nang. This city seems frozen in time. Although it was once a thriving port, trade eventually shifted to Da Nang, which could accommodate more ships. Nevertheless, Hoi An springs to life at night, with lanterns illuminating the streets and hawker stalls lining the riverbanks, filling the air with enticing aromas.
I promptly spotted street hawkers selling corn, and I learned that there were two primary types: grilled (known as bao nuong) and steamed (bap hap). At these hawker stalls, scallion oil could be drizzled on top, a combination that surpassed traditional butter (and was lactose intolerant-friendly for me).
Yet, the secret to what made the steamed corn, whether on the street or by the pool, so exceptional lay in the cooking liquid. Upon closer inspection, I realized it wasn’t just water; it was coconut water. This lent the corn a rich, buttery, somewhat sweet flavor.
The only thing this street corn was missing was a pool to savor it by. So, dutifully, I returned to my sun lounger the next day and the day after that, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the corn on the cob. I had never associated corn on the cob with relaxation, and I’m still not sure if I do — after all, I was gnawing my nails in anticipation. However, what I can say for certain is this: it’s the only poolside snack I ever want to indulge in again.