Eating Hoi An, Vietnam
It feels like we’ve done nothing but eat in Hoi An, we have of course wandered around, we’ve cycled here and there and enjoyed the beauty on offer but in between doing that? We’ve eaten and eaten some more because the food is quite frankly, what we’d been led to believe Vietnam had to offer but had not yet found, fanbloomingtastic!
Hoi An is a gorgeous little town reminiscent of the World Heritage sites in George Town and Melaka in Malaysia, narrow streets lined by charming shophouses many turned into cafes, restaurants and galleries. The ancient town is a car free zone for most of the day and evening making it a lovely place to walk around and while it is still bustling it is far less hectic than some of the other places we’ve visited.
No stay in the foodie capital of Vietnam would be complete without a food tour, well according to my logic anyway so we booked one for the day we arrived with Urban Adventures who’ve we’ve used and loved before. There were ten of us in total, our largest food tour in a while, a lovely group made of us, two young Canadians, a family from Australia and another couple who we didn’t sit next to at all so I can tell you nothing about them. We started, guided by the friendly and knowledgeable Luke, with traditional Vietnamese sandwiches at Banh Mi Phoung, reputedly the best Banh Mi not just in Hoi An but in the whole of Vietnam and the steady stream of customers, both locals and foreigners certainly seemed to think so. We had half a no 3 sandwich each; fresh baked baguettes filled with egg, chicken, pork, pickles and salad, making a juicy crispy snack. It’s said that the Vietnamese make better baguettes than the French do and I’d agree with that after trying these, so nice we went back the next day to pick up one each for dinner.
After a few minutes walk through the cool streets to a tiny stall with even tinier chairs in the open air market edging the river, we stopped for freshly barbecued pork skewers. We’re becoming pros at the tiny chair but they were clearly a first for some of our fellow foodies and not the easiest to get into or out of without practice. The pork, which we wrapped with lettuce and herbs in rice paper before dipping in sauce, looked great but after my first mouthful confirmed they were marinated in chili I left them to the others who thoroughly enjoyed them.
Leaving the waterfront we wove our way through the lanes and down a long alleyway to Vuon Cua (Old Garden) for prawn wonton and white rose dumplings in this hidden gem of a restaurant. The dumplings are named for their resemblance to roses, not that I could see that but they were absolutely delicious so we didn’t much care what they looked like. The wontons were hot and crisp with sweet and sour vegetables and a prawn on top, nice to have but I don’t need them again, whereas I could eat those dumplings all day long!
Next up we stopped at the very smiley Madam Lam’s roadside chicken stall for our main meal of the night, fragrant rice topped with moist chicken. We’re big fans of Hainanese chicken rice and while this was certainly a tasty meal it didn’t have the depth of flavour the Hainanese does and we both thought it a bit of an unnecessary stop.
We’d been promised bizarrely named Slapping cake all the way along and really as long as it’s cake I don’t care what flavour it is, except this wasn’t cake, just a crispy rice cracker atop a sticky rice wrap that you slap between your hands then rip apart and dip in chilli sauce, meh! Even without the disappointment of it not being cake it was pretty tasteless and the accompanying baby mussel salad was mixed with chilli so this was more of a rest stop for me to make room for whatever was to follow.
Our next stop was in what looked like someone’s living room converted into a Church hall and part time restaurant, which is exactly what it was. As the family’s gorgeously cheeky toddler ran around we had jasmine tea with sticky husband and wife cake made from glutinous tapioca and filled with sweet coconut and mung bean which was really nice, with local crunchy coconut crackers and peanut rice crackers. I think we all ended up buying packets of either the coconut or peanut crackers to take away.
Finally we stopped for a drink along the waterfront, we could really have ended the tour at the previous stop as there was nothing unusual or new about the sugarcane juice, coconut or beer on offer. It was neither the worst nor best food tour we’ve been on, for me a food tours worth is not just in the quantity or variety of food we try but in the guide sharing local information and experiences with us while we eat and maybe because the group was so large this didn’t happen with Luke either sitting silently or away while we chatted amongst ourselves. I also wouldn’t say I was full at the end of the tour, we had eaten a lot but only half portions and small tastes and I was surprised we had not tried Cao Lau, a traditional local dish of tough and chewy noodles that is only made in Hoi An, as the noodles have to be made with water from the towns hidden wells.
But no matter we sought it out for lunch a few days later, finding the much recommended Madam Chien at stall 34 in the food market and boy was it worth the wait, quite delicious, the noodles are nothing like I’ve ever tasted, the consistency almost that of rubbery pork rind which is tastier than it sounds, served with beansprouts, greens and pork in a rich broth and topped with crunchy croutons, wow! We had it for lunch two days in a row and would probably have eaten it most days had we been staying longer.
One of the couples on the food tour mentioned they had enjoyed a fantastic meal at Gieng Ba Le(Bale Well restaurant) so we headed there the next day for an early lunch. The restaurant is hidden away from the main drag down a little alley on the way to the Ba Le Well and you will smell its wonderfulness before you see it. They only offer a set menu of Be Banh Xeo for 120k (about 4GBP) which consists of Nem Nuong, grilled pork skewers, Ram Cuon, spring rolls, Banh Xeo, crispy beansprout filled pancakes and salad greens which are all rolled in rice paper wrappers and dipped in the most delicious sauce, my absolute favourite thing we have eaten in Vietnam by far, we enjoyed it so much we went back for dinner the following day.
It seems everyone who’s been here has a favourite restaurant recommendation and we would never have stopped eating if we had tried them all, which is fine because now we have a really good reason to come back Xx