Cao Lau

A Taste of Hoi An

Nov 15, 2014 - Julie

Similar to Hue, Hoi An is another smaller city with very distinctive food from the rest of Vietnam. When we were not visiting Hoi An’s Ancient Town, we were repeatedly drinking 15 cent draft beers and tasting Hoi An’s signature dishes.

Hoi An had some of the cheapest beers in Vietnam! Only 15 cents!
Hoi An had some of the cheapest beers in Vietnam! Only 15 cents!

Cao Lau

Cao lau is by far the most famous food in Hoi An. The dish itself is actually fairly simple consisting of a dry noodle, with sliced pork or fried pork rinds, plus rice crackers, peanuts and local vegetables. Served with all of these ingredients in layers – you’re responsible for mixing it all together.

Cao Lau
Cao Lau

This was probably Carlos’ favourite out of all the food in Hoi An, which is strangely fitting because the only place in the world that cao lau can be found is Hoi An. The rice flour noodles of cao lau are special – supposedly they can only be made using water from specific Cham wells nearby. Good thing we ate lots of cao lau while we were there!

White Rose

This was probably my favourite dish in Hoi An. White rose is actually just a shrimp dumpling made out of two rice papers with a small lump of shrimp filling. When the dumpling is steamed, the translucent rice papers bunch up, resembling a rose – thus the name. Toasted garlic toppings add crunch, while the sweet dipping sauce balances the salty shrimp filling nicely.

White rose
White rose

The best dishes don’t just taste good, they also look and smell appetizing. White rose is pretty in the most simple way, while packing in a lot of flavour. I always enjoyed at least a little bit of white rose as part of every meal in Hoi An.

Fried Wontons

This one was a bit of a surprise. I feel like fried wontons is one of those things that I probably would never order off of a menu because it doesn’t sound like anything really special (honestly, it sounds like Americanized Chinese food, of which I’m not the biggest fan). Plus I thought it would literally be a soup wonton fried, which doesn’t sound appealing. I was only a tiny bit right.

Fried Wontons
Fried Wontons

There was sort of a fried wonton, but the wonton had minimal filling, and the emphasis was clearly on the crispy wonton skin. Stir-fried chopped vegetables (with pieces of pineapple!) in a sweet-sour sauce topped the fried wonton. It was the closest I’ve ever had to Asian nachos – wonton skins as the chips, stir-fry as the toppings. We ordered it on a whim one night and quite enjoyed it. Food is one of the few things in life I like being wrong about.

Banh Mi

We had been consistently eating banh mi ever since our first ones in Hanoi, but I had been waiting for Hoi An to try Banh Mi Phuong, supposedly the best banh mi in the entirety of Vietnam. Anthony Bourdain found this place many years ago, so of course they are famous. We ate with many other tourists, but I also saw a decent number of locals taking out, which assured me of its authenticity.

Banh Mi
Banh Mi filled with ingredients

My personal verdict? It was decent. I wouldn’t say it was two standard deviations better than other banh mi vendors, but it was pretty good. They really pay attention to the details. The meats were more flavourful than usual. The baguette always came overflowing with ingredients. The bread was wonderfully toasted, guaranteed to be crispy. In such a competitive world, those who do the little things well stand out. So bravo Banh Mi Phuong for keeping up your standards.

Banh Mi at Banh Mi Phuong
Banh Mi at Banh Mi Phuong

We liked it enough to go back a few times. Two banh mis each made for a great meal.

To further explore food in Hoi An and Vietnamese cuisine in general, we took a cooking class at the famed Morning Glory Cooking School.

For more pictures of what we ate in Hoi An, please visit the gallery!