Street Food Feasting in Hoi An

18 April 2011
by Phuoc

I had mentioned before that during our Vietnamese holiday Ant and I decided to set forth and have as much street food as we could and we found that the best place we did this was in Hoi An (about 3 hours south of Hue – Vietnam’s central city). Throughout our Vietnamese holiday, we didn’t really want to go to any of the restaurants because street food will always be much better, cheaper and it’ll be something definitely we’ll miss out on once we return back home.

Most western foreigners travelling to South-East Asian countries like Vietnam are normally afraid of eating street food. The only thing you’d need to keep mind of is to make sure that there are a lot of people eating at the food stall (to ensure food turnover is quick) and that the food is cooked in front of you, and with that you should be fine!

I guess what I loved the most about having street food was the simplicity of the dishes, the fact that I could actually talk to the food vendors about the food they are making for us and to just appreciate all the hard work that these food vendors (which are most likely family-run) do to serve up the best dish they possibly can to make a living – most of which have been working at the same spot everyday of the year (except the Vietnamese New Year holidays) for most of their lives!

By the time we arrived in Hoi An, we had worked up quite an appetite so we decided to venture into the Old Town to grab something to eat and explore.  It was a bit before 2pm, so lunch time was just about over, we walked through a street and got called over by a lady who had set up her food stall amongst other ladies. I saw the words “Cao Lầu” and thought, what is this dish? and because I didn’t know what it was I thought it was a more than enough reason for me to want to try it. So we sat down directly in front of the lady and watched her prepare our lunch.

Cao Lầu is a specialty dish of Hoi An which comprises of the signature cao lầu noodles, slices of barbecue pork, pork crackling, bean sprouts, lettuce and herbs, it is then finished with a spoonful of stock.  The noodles are simply made from rice and water. However, what makes these noodles special is that there is no where else in Vietnam that can make them as good as the ones you’d find in Hoi An. This is because the water used to make these noodles has a unique flavour and could only be sourced from wells around Hoi An; the most famous well is from the Ba Le Village, Quang Nam Province. This water is then mixed with ashes from certain trees, to give it its particular yellow tinge and slightly firm texture.

We were ordered to combine the contents of the dish before eating as it was presented to us unmixed. Throughout the meal, I asked the lady what the stock was made from and she told me it was the stock used to cook the delicious barbecue pork; this stock does not make the dish wet (like phở) instead it serves to coat the contents of the dish (like a dressing would to a salad). There were many different textures going on in this dish, you had the slightly chewy texture of the noodles and the crunch of the pork crackling, lettuce and bean sprouts; all smothered by a aromatic and silky broth and flavoursome pork.

Possibly hands down the best dish we’ve had on our holiday and it’s definitely a dish we’ve constantly been craving for ever since we’ve been back!

Thưy

Cnr of Trân Phú & Hoàng Diệu Street (across Mermaid Restaurant – 2 Trân Phú St)

Opening hours: 6am – 2pm

Cao Lầu is 20000 vnd (AU$1)/dish

After lunch, we had not walked more than 100m and bumped into a food cart selling donuts, fried banana fritters and buns filled with various fillings such as coconut, mung bean etc So I decided to stop to get some banana fritters (not pictured) which were prepared fresh by coating 3 thin slices of banana with some batter, overlapping them over one another to form a triangle and fried. I found it a little too oily for my liking as I’ve always preferred banana fritters to be whole instead of sliced up like this. Ant got the coconut bun which was soft and topped with toasted sesame seeds, the filling was a little dry but had a nice custard flavour to it.

I really loved walking through the Old Town of Hoi An, which has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999. The city definitely has a beautiful charm to it because of all the lanterns. I was bummed that I missed out on the monthly Lantern Festival, which occurs on the 14th day of the luna month. This is the time where all the lights and electric goods are turned off by the residents in the Old Town and the streets are lit up with lanterns and candles, and kids help float some lanterns with candles down the river. Such a romantic scenery this would have been..

After more walking we stumble upon a little dessert stall (something which I’ve been trying to find throughout Vietnam). Earlier in the day, we walked pass another mobile dessert cart where we saw alot of locals digging into something black. I didn’t know what it was at the time but when I had walked pass this second stall it clicked to me that this black gruel looking thing was actually chè mè đen (black sesame pudding). But that didn’t catch my eye at first, I was drawn to the chè bắp (sweet corn pudding).

A piping hot bowl of the corn pudding with freshly grated coconut flesh was given to us; it was silky, sweet and bursting with shavings of young corn. Just what I needed! As I had ordered one and Ant didn’t mind the dessert, I gave the bowl to him to finish so I could try the black sesame pudding. Like the corn pudding, it came out piping hot. Yes, it looks kind of like smooth cement but it was deliciously nutty. I can’t believed I’ve never come across this dessert in my life!

We crossed the other side of the river to explore the not-so-touristy part of Hoi An; here we felt we were amongst the locals. As we walked down a deserted street I saw I guy pushing a cart on a bicycle, when we passed I asked what he was selling. I was utterly amazed and all giddy when he told me that he was selling ice cream!! “OMG Ant, we HAVE to get some ice cream!” “Brother, how much?” “2000vnd (10¢)” That got me even more giddy.. So we got one each (so should have gotten more but it was a warm day and would have melted but I guess I had the option of following him too I guess…); Ant chose chocolate whilst I went for milk.

My eyes were fixed on the ice cream compartment when he open the lid; there had to be at least more than 100 tubes of ice cream in it. I found it so fascinating that he was able to store all these ice creams without the need of an electrical freezer and how they all didn’t melt without one. The ice creams were nice and creamy and one of the best ones we’ve had in Vietnam so far (as most of the ones we had tasted like the leftover melted ice cream at the bottom of the ice cream container – you know that stringy, sticky mess?)! Ahhh… The best things in life are free almost close to nothing!

Another stroll later, we smelt wonderful barbecue aromas floating in the air so we followed our noses and found a small street set up with possibly the tiniest stools ever and no tables! Once again, I was jumping for joy as soon as I saw what was cooking. I think we both sat down immediately before even asking each other if we wanted to also eat here.. HA! To me, this is the stuff street food dreams are made of.

We had a choice of pork, chicken and beef skewers and go for the former. At 30000 vnd (AU$1.50)/3 sticks, we were told we could have as many as we want until we got full. These skewers were served with sheets of fresh rice paper, slithers of cucumber and green figs, lettuce, various herbs and a chilli satay dipping sauce; they had a hint of lemongrass, garlic, sesame seeds and chilli. Absolutely delicious! As I was talking to the girls, one of them urged me to buy a bowl of tàu hũ (tofu pudding) (10000vnd (50¢)) from one of her friends who conveniently was sitting right near us. She scooped the tofu pudding thinly and drizzled a decent amount of ginger syrup over the top. I found the tofu very silky and soft but the ginger syrup was too spicy for my liking.

This little snack was Dinner #1 (of 3 that night, but the last one was at a crappy restaurant along the river so we won’t count it).

The sun starts to set and we start to see beautiful hues stretch across the sky and the streets being lit by colourful lantern; there’s a sense of magic in the air. By night time the streets are buzzing with families, locals trying to sell lanterns to float on the river and glowing things that you throw up in the air, wait staff are trying to call you in to eat and places are set up for Bài Chòi (Vietnamese Bingo)! If you haven’t heard of it, then maybe you should check out the short video below or search for more youtube videos. Basically, it is bingo BUT the numbers are sung to you in Vietnamese and the lyrics don’t make any sense at all!

As we were walking along the river, we noticed that there was an influx of tables and chairs that have been set up. We could have sworn that they weren’t there about an hour ago.. These make-shift street stalls were pretty much all selling Cao Lầu, we were on the search for something different so I told someone that and they sat us down at another place. We had no idea what we were having at the time but I found out later that it was bánh đập (rice crackers with fresh rice paper) 10000 vnd (50¢) which was served with a chilli pasta and garlic oil. There was nice crunch to it, but we were left still hungry and confused after that ordeal so we set forth for Dinner #2 and just considered this was an appetiser.

We stumbled upon another place selling another Hoi An specialty dish I was not familiar with; Mì QuảngMì Quảng comprised of rice noodles, slices of pork, pork crackling, prawns, quail eggs and crushed peanuts. Once again, spoonful of broth is poured in the bowl but only enough to coat the noodles. This dish is similar to Cao Lầu but no way near as good!

So there we have it, the epic feasting that we did in less than a day. Stay tuned for the fabulous cooking class we did in Hoi An and other Vietnamese food highlights.

This is my entry to the Delicious Vietnam May 2011 blogging event, founded by A Food Lover’s Journey and Ravenous Couple and hosted by Jing from My Fusion Kitchen. This monthly blogging event celebrates Vietnamese cuisine by Vietnamese food lovers around the world.

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36 Comments

  1. Richard Elliot

    OMG I can’t believe you ate so much in one day. It must have been good! ;-)

    Some of the photos of the yellow painted houses with flowers and bicycles outside remind me a bit of the South of France….

  2. joey@FoodiePop

    I for one CAN believe you ate so much in one day! It’s a holiday after all! LOL

    LOVE the pics, so beautiful. Makes me want to visit Vietnam and soon!

  3. Minh

    LOL I love how excited you are about the icecream, that’s brilliant. You make me want to visit Hoi An so so much, the food looks amazing!

  4. john@heneedsfood

    What a great post! I loved Hoi An when I was there, even though it was non-stop rain & the river was flooding. Cau lau, yum!

  5. MissPiggy

    I wish we had this type of eating in Australia – it sure would make lunchtimes a whole lot more interesting (and cheaper too). I really want to go to Vietnam now. One day….

  6. Steph

    I love all the vibrant colours in this post, it’s making me ache for a food-filled Asian holiday! Eee the little ice cream sticks are so cute!!! And sweet corn pudding sounds awesome.

  7. Heidi - Apples Under My Bed

    Girl, this post is amazing!!! Takes me back :) we lost so many pics from our Hoi An visit & street eats. I’m so glad you have posted what we tasted!! Thank you :) I loved the filled, fried buns, the sweet corn pudding, sesame pudding & the pork skewers in
    particular!!! I loved reading this, thanks so much!
    Heidi xo

  8. Zina @ tastedbytwo

    Yum! Did you manage to try the awesome banh mi place? They make it with fried egg, hands down the best I’ve tried.

  9. Sukaina

    Whenever I’m on holiday, I love eating the street food to really experience the country’s cuisine. Like you, I always look for the busisest vendor! I just assume the food will automtically eb fresher there. In my country, the most popular street food is deep fried cassava served with a birds eye chilli chutney!

  10. Jacq

    Your photos are so beautiful and all that street food is making me hungry! I really need to get myself to Vietnam to try all of this delicious street food – yum!

  11. Alison@streetfood

    This makes me realise what we missed out on when we came here during the middle of torential floods in 2007. Still had fun riding around on pushbikes in the calf high floodwaters but the riverfront and markets were entirely washed out. This post gives me a great reason to go back!

    Zina@tastedbytwo – we had banh mi with egg delivered while stranded on the train between Hoi An and Nha Trang (floods again) – hands down the best indeed!

  12. chopinandmysaucepan

    The best thing about this is you keep working off whatever you eat along the way! I love going for these sort of street food safaris especially in Asia where street food is so plentiful and tasty!

  13. Sara @ Belly Rumbles

    What stunning photos. That is amazing about the ice-cream, such delicate looking sticks too.

  14. Thip

    I’m going to V Vietnam next month during my visit to Thailand. :)

  15. Trisha

    OMGGGG Phuoc the skewers FTW! I’d love to visit Vietname one time… do an Asian tour of all the southeast asian countries – vietname, thailand, malaysia, philippines, indonesia. I’ll be so fat after the trip though. Still… WORTH IT!

  16. anh

    yummo! you know u should never say to a southerner/central people that mi quang is not as good as cao lau =) hehe

  17. Tina@foodboozeshoes

    Fab photos – love the colourful lanterns. And the Cao Lầu sounds like such a treat!

  18. Susan

    How good are those skewers! I would definitely OD on those :)

  19. Helen (grabyourfork)

    omg everything looks amazing. I love street food and the carts in Vietnam are awesome. I would have gone crazy over those skewers and argh, you had me drooling as soon as your mentioned pork crackling in those noodles. lol.

  20. Phuoc

    Richard Elliot: Street food is the best! I wish we have something like that in Sydney!

    Joey: So true! Most of the time you’d work it off from all the walking and sightseeing you’ll be doing anyway so all good!

    Minh: Just love the simple things in life.. Besides, it was after I had found out how much I was going to have to pay to get a dress tailored made – let me just say that it was more than what I was expecting, so I didn’t get to make all the 4 dresses I had orginially planned. So I wasn’t too pleased, but this cheered me up.

    John: Hoi An is such a beautiful place, one of the top cities in Vietnam. I gotta go back and spend more time there next time, and of course to have CAO LAU! Man… I’m craving for it so badly!

    Miss Piggy: You and me both! Street food is the bomb!

    Steph: Gotta love how food-centric asian countries are! Was having a discussion with Ant about this, sure, Europeans are food-focus as well but it’s NOTHING compared to asian countries. I guess it’s because a family’s livelihood depends on its success to bring in continuing customers. Food means so much more to these family than just nourishment.

    Heidi: Ngawww.. Thanks dear! I’m so happy that you got to relive your holiday through mine and it was a shame to hear that you lost the pics, I would have been devastated!

    Zina: No I haven’t!! I wasn’t aware of it! The best banh mi I had was in Can Tho, roast pork (with bits of crackling) and just the right amount of pickled veggies and herbs, all for 35c! BEST EVER! But must visit when I go back :)

    Sukaina: Mmm that street food dish sounds good! My mouth is watering! Street food is one of the best things in the world!

    Jacq: Thanks! A trip to Vietnam is soooo cheap! Cost us about $3000 for the entire 3 week holiday but if you budget you can bring that down alot more! Do it!!

    Alison: Oh no! But I guess it’s all the more reason to go back for sure!

    Chopin and my saucepan: Exactly! I find this always the case when travelling :)

    Sara: Thank you! It really does make it easier if the country if beautiful already (if you ignore the trash lying on the streets, rivers etc)

    Thip: I’m so excited for you!

    Trisha: Would like to visit Malaysia (birth place but I’m not malaysian) and Philippines because you guys can eat! Oh and I’d also like to do Cambodia and Laos as well! Been to Indo for a week already and Thailand.. We’ll I’ll be interested in the more remote places/islands if I was to go there.

    Anh: Really? But Cao Lau is so much better though! I saw a store in Cabra offer Mi Quang the other day, wonder if it’s any good!

    Tina: I love the lanterns too!

    Susan: I wish I had lol

    Helen: lol pork crackling makes everything much better :)

  21. Martyna (Wholesome Cook)

    What a beautiful foodie adventure, the colours of the streets are so vibrant and your pics are amazing too. Love the sound of the milk ice cream! And donuts. But the ice cream would have been a nice refreshment on a hot day. Must go one day…

  22. Phuoc

    Martyna: Thanks! Hoi An is such a beautiful city, it make photographing so much easier. The icecreams were definitely a hit!

  23. Megan @ Wanna Be A Country Cleaver

    I just found your website through Christina at Desserts for Two and I am absolutely mesmerized by your gorgeous photography and passion for cooking. Extraordinary!! You have a new follower in me :) All the best, and can’t wait to see what else you whip up and photo! ~Megan

  24. mademoiselle délicieuse

    I like your eating style! And one of the great things about street eating is that it’s cheap and quick (you’re supporting small family-run businesses as well, of course), and if it doesn’t turn out to be the thing you wanted then you can go in search of more elsewhere. I haven’t had that black sesame dessert in years, but it definitely ranks ahead of its paler cousin of almond pudding/soup.

  25. bake in paris

    Love local street food and all. Such an intriguing writeup about the trip! Maybe I should quickly go and experience it all by myself. Thanks for sharing…

  26. Phuoc

    Megan: Hi! Welcome to me blog! Thank you for your kind words. I hope you enjoy what’s to come :)

    Mademoiselle délicieuse: It’s the only eating style you’ll have to adapted when travelling in Asian countries I think. That’s almond dessert is another I haven’t heard of..

    Bake in Paris: Yes I think you should explore Vietnam since you are quite close.

  27. Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella

    The desserts really caught my eye, especially the black sesame one and I also love sweet corn pudding! When I went to Singapore I really wanted to try sweet corn ice cream but sadly I didn’t have the chance!

  28. rebecca

    first class post and what a beautiful country was like visiting with you, adore food and travel and wow the street food looks amazing
    Rebecca

  29. Phuoc

    Lorraine: Sweet corn icecream?! Woah! That sounds interesting.. Maybe we have to find a place in Sydney that does it :)

    Rebecca: Thank you. Loved writing about my holiday. There’s more to come! :)

  30. Paula

    Wow So happy to have discovered your blog thanks to Helen’s list of Sydney bloggers. I am planning my Vietnam holiday now. We have 3 weeks too so your posts are gold to me. Thanks so much

  31. Phuoc

    Paula: Hi! Thanks for dropping by. I hope you have a marvelous time in Vietnam, Stay tune for more of my Vietnamese travelogues :)

  32. nic@diningwithastud

    I have an unhealthy obsession for banana fritters lols! That sesame pud looks amazing!

  33. Phuoc

    Nic: I think I need to start making them again once bananas get cheaper and share the recipe with you :)

  34. liempham

    Hi Phuoc,

    I read an article in a Vietnamese online magazine, about your wonderful trip to Hoi An and your food sharing. I have a small restaurant, I want to copy this article and put it in my menu.
    Could I do that?
    Sorry because of my bad English.
    Thank you!

    Liem Pham

  35. Phuoc

    Liem Pham: Yes this is fine, please go ahead, thank you for asking :)

  36. liempham

    Thank you, Phuoc.

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