Oct, 2016: As one rides down the gorgeous streets of Hoi An in central Vietnam, other than the never ending array of tailors and impossibly cute colonial cottages, one of the first things you notice are the sounds and smells of glorious food. Whether it’s the deep thud of a meat cleaver carving BBQ pork for a Banh Mi sandwich; or the heady aroma of beef broth being poured over fresh herbs for a hearty bowl of Pho Bo; amazing food is everywhere. Last year a group of us rendezvoused in Hoi An to get a bunch of wedding threads made for our impending nuptials. When we weren’t deciding between 20 shades of navy or standing around in our underwear, we were sampling some of Hoi An’s best eating.
Eating Hoi An: what we ate…
We had spicy Banh Mi (Vietnamese baguette stuffed with pork, pate, herbs and chili), and crunchy Banh Xeo (rice pancakes filled with pork, prawns and bean sprouts); we drank copious amounts of Ca Phe Cua (rich and chocolaty ice coffee with condensed milk) but also had some quality espresso at Hoi An Roastery. We feasted on the local specialities of delicate White Rose dumplings (pork and prawn rice paper dumplings) and Cau Lao (noodles, roast pork, herbs and rich pork gravy) while also revisiting plenty of the old favourite Pho (both the chicken and beef versions). We enjoyed a delicious seafood feast at An Bang beach and an epic yet surprisingly cheap dinner at Morning Glory. And, when all was said and done, we saw a days feasting end with cold beers at sunset over the Thu Bon river or a couple of punchy G&T’s from our hotel balcony.
Eating Hoi An: a run in with MSG…
One of the more interesting culinary experiences we had while in Hoi An was seeing the amount of MSG used during an impromptu cooking class at our homestay. Having now read a few other blogs and articles, our shock at the liberal application of MSG is not a new one. Indeed, it would appear that something which many westerners struggle to get their head around is something which those in the far east find fairly normal. One evening we found something of an explanation while poking our nose in Vy’s Market Restaurant via a small stand dedicated to the dreaded Monosodium Glutamate. The stand detailed that in the brutal years during and after the Vietnam war, families’ food rations were massively supplemented with MSG to make up for the lack other ingredients (namely meat). Since then MSG has continued to be a valid additive to Vietnamese cooking and indeed much of asia. While I knew that MSG was fairly prevalent in eastern cuisine I was definitely surprised at just how prevalent it was and the history behind this. Thankfully it didn’t detract from our Hoi An feasting.
Eating Hoi An: travel and feasting tips
- We stayed at the lovely Hoi An Trust Villas (77 Nguyễn Duy Hiệu, Cẩm Châu). It was a 10-15 minute bike ride out of town towards the beach and is a very happy combination of hotel and homestay. Super friendly and helpful Be and her family were the best hosts and made amazing breakfasts. Total cost was USD186 for 3 massive air-conditioned rooms for 4 nights including breakfast.
- The best Banh Mi we ate were at Banh Mi Phuong (2B Phan Châu Trinh street). My favourite is the traditional.
- For the best white rose dumplings go to the family who makes them for the whole town at the White Rose Restaurant (533 Hai Bà Trưng street).
- We had a delicious seafood lunch at Tuyet’s right on An Bang beach. Beware though the 20-30 min ride on bikes with no gears can feel a touch strenuous in the middle of the day so bring some water, a hat and some sun cream.
- For epic, crispy vietnamese pancakes, head to the busiest stand in the central market. They specialise in the pancakes and will be busy both with people seated at the stall and other’s popping in for take away. Even just watching the pace at which they’re churned out is impressive in itself.
- For delicious Cao Lau try the old lady across the aisle from the pancake stall. She didn’t have much custom when we were there but her pork gravy was outstanding.
- For the best beef pho head to Pho Lien (25 Lê Lợi street), it was so cheap, fragrant and delicious
- For a slightly more pricey but still delicious meal head to Morning Glory (106 Nguyen Thai Hoc in the street with all the lanterns). It is one of the most highly rated places in the guide books and TripAdvisor but it really was worth a look for tasty tit-bits such as smokey eggplant and minced pork or the five spice pork belly and caramel sauce.