Food in Hoi An
A trip to Vietnam is not complete without visiting Hoi An, a Unesco World Heritage Site. While not being a large town (120,000 people) there are plenty of things to see in Hoi An and you can easily spend 3 days seeing the major sights, most of all enjoying the local cuisine that includes some fantastic regional specialties.
The history of Hoi An is predominately based around trading and Hoi An was the most important trading port in the South China Sea in the 17th and 18th centuries, trading in ceramics and spices, which were exported all over Asia.
The legacy of this history is some very old and historic buildings and a rich cuisine with some external influences, such as the French, Japanese and Chinese.
The main culinary gift the French exported to Vietnam was the baguette and is the base of the Banh Mi.
The Vietnamese baguette is lighter than the French variety, it’s made with rice flour as well as wheat flour. Added to the baguette is pork, sometimes egg and pate’ which is almost always made at home. Then add coriander (cilantro),
Cucumber,onion, mint and mayonnaise and often pickled carrot and daikon radish. Some chilli or sweet chilli sauce is also added depending on your tolerance level.
It’s a great and cheap meal to have for lunch and backpackers are seen at all the local Banh Mi shops.
The most visited Banh Mi shop in Hoi An is Banh Mi Phuong which was made famous on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations.
Hoi An Crispy Pancake
Another great snack and regional specialty is the Hoi An Crispy Pancake. In Vietnamese called Banh Xeo – sizzling cake.
It’s similar enough to crepes to think there maybe a French influence in this dish as well.
The pancake is made from rice flour, turmeric and coconut milk/cream and then bean sprouts,shrimp and pork are added to the batter.
Once the batter is cooked rice paper is used as a base next layer the pancake and then put cucumber, green banana coriander (cilantro), mint on top of the pancake and roll it like it’s a cold roll and eat. Just fantastic!
You can buy the pancakes in the local market and you eat them with your hands, true street food.
This dish is taught at most of the local cooking schools of which there are many.
Cao Lau Noodles
This noodle dish is something you will only find in Hoi An and the legend that surrounds it, is that the taste and texture can only be achieved using water from the Ba Le water wheel (although it is quite likely an urban myth).
It’s also said the ash of a burnt local tree gives the dish its taste and texture.
Nobody can be sure of the origins of the dish but the fact that it is unique to Hoi An and is reminiscent of a Japanese or Chinese noodle dish, you would think that it is a local attempt to replicate a Chinese or Japanese
dish a few centuries ago to sell to the traders.
Different restaurants cook the dish in slightly different ways the dish is normally pork, noodle and vegetable with a broth and sauce.
There are many Cao Lau noodle makers in Hoi An outside of the old town where you can enjoy a bowl of Cao Lau Noodles
You can see the noodles being made all over town being laid to dry on the pathways, out the front of the homes of the noodle makers.
This dish is out of left field and something I would more likely expect to see in Mexico. In Vietnamese this dish is called Hoanh Thanh.
Crispy Wontons are fried wontons filled with pork. It’s a bit like a fried tortilla but the thing that’s most Mexican like is the salsa that’s added at the end.
It’s a tomato based salsa with vegetables and coriander (cilantro), it’s a fresh taste that’s ideal for the hot climate in the area.
If you are in Vietnam you will find Pho (pronounced) fur everywhere. The Hoi An variety is much like the Saigon style which is a lighter broth with star anis, very floral with plenty of herbs.
The more north you travel the more that Pho tends to change to a more winter like soup by European tastes.
Unlike in Europe the soup is eaten for breakfast in Vietnam and you will find Pho in nearly all the places you go in Vietnam.
It’s a taste sensation when done well and you’ll find everyone will have a different master stock so no two restaurants will have Pho’s that are exactly the same.
Hoi An is a great getaway from the hustle and bustle of Vietnam and should be on the itinerary of every food lover visiting Vietnam