Monday, February 12, 2018

Eating BIG in Hoi An

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
- Eating and Exploring Vietnam's Ancient City

Next stop up in Vietnam was Hoi An. We chose this over other spots bc it looked so majestic when we were looking into where to go. Yes it's a big time tourist town but it's also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In my opinion it lived up to the hype and even though you will be around tons of tourists it's always kind of cool when everyone is from a different part of the globe. Hoi An attracts people from all over Asia including India as well as flocks of Chinese people and Australian's and the usual European's and Americans. But that's bc it's a pretty special place to spend a few days relaxing.

 Sights from Hoi An

Compared to some other popular Asian vacation destinations Hoi An is a small place. It has a population of 120,000 so it's virtually all tourism as far as dollars. That tourism money keeps the city really clean and also helps preserve it's beauty. The city's old town area is filled with ancient buildings and relics. It's a mix of style that includes wooden Chinese shophouses and temples as well as colorful French colonial buildings and ornate Vietnamese tube houses. The city has an iconic Japanese Covered Bridge with a pagoda. Hoi An is also known for it's beaches and of course food.

Sights from Hoi An

Speaking of the food. Of course that's another thing we were here for. Because of the small size of the main part of the city it's a pretty walkable place that you shouldn't have any trouble navigating. I would have to say that Hoi An was the second best city I ever ate with a population of under 200,000 (San Sebastian is hard to beat). I was in love with all of the specialty dishes of the city. They just kept surprising me with how delicious it all was despite it being something like the Orlando of Vietnam. On top of the food the views and the people made this a memorable place to visit. It was really nice getting to enjoy a place that wasn't too crazy as far as traffic and people and just chaos in general. This is where the Vietnamese people go when they want to get away fro the big city lifestyle.

Sights from Hoi An

Another thing that Hoi An is known for which almost all tourists get in on is the local tailoring scene. There's 100's of shops where you can get personally fitted for suits and dresses and such. There's a 100% chance that someone will come up to you and try to take you to a shop. I would advise you go to one of them just make sure you read the reviews. Most of them are good as this city is known for it's skill with the needle and knitting. We ended up getting sold on a place called Su. Reviews were great and the person that sold us on them was so sweet and also persistent. I cant say enough good things about the ladies at this place. Not only did they make sure we got exactly what we wanted and it felt how we wanted it to they also were so nice providing life advice and bringing joy to the room. I got a ridiculous deal on a real nice suit that had me wishing I got two. I would 100% rec these ladies.

Cửa hàng vải Su aka Su Tailors in Hoi An - TripAdvisor Page
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Madam Khanh The Banh Mi Queen 

Hoi An is said to have the best Banh Mi in the country. There's a few places famous for making the globally popular French inspired sandwich. Not to mention all the portable stands lined up at night. So I made sure my first bite was Banh Mi. Madam Khanh is an elderly lady who's been making her sandwiches for decades. You only have one choice when you eat here. The signature sandwich includes vegetables, pork, ham, eggs, pate, egg sauce, papaya, and cucumber. Well screw me bc I ruined Banh Mi forever by eating this. It was maybe the best sandwich I've ever had. Yeah I said it. It was one of the most memorable sandwiches I'll ever eat. The meats were a step above all the other spots and same goes for the local bread. The flavor combinations are as delicious as you'll get for $2.

Banh Mi at Madam Khanh's
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Mì Quảng Ông Hai

After that snack we walked over to start our little self guided mini tour of Hoi An's specialty dishes. First up was a bowl of Mi Quang noodles. This is one of a few of the city's signature dishes that you'll find all over town. This little spot was off the main strip kind of hidden between some buildings. Mi Quang noodles are made with a vibrant wide yellow turmeric noodle topped with roast pork, garlic, spring onions, local river shrimp, boiled quail eggs, and roasted peanuts. A bowl of fresh herbs comes served on the side. What differentiates this bowl of noodles from other Vietnamese favorites is the use of a light broth that only covers the bottom of the bowl. It's part soup-part salad and fully fantastic. 

Mi Quang Noodles in Hoi An
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Quan Ben Tre 

I learned about this hyper local regional dish being served on an island right next to Hoi An. Cam nam is a little village you can walk to from a bridge. Upon your arrival you'll notice a bunch of restaurants lined up along a tranquil little river. The specialties of the island are banh dap (smashing rice paper), hen xuc banh trang (clam salad with crispy rice paper) and che bap (sweet corn soup).

Banh Trang in Hoi An

An order of Banh Trang was in store. What you see above is everything that came with this hyper local clam salad. The clams come from the river we were dining next to. They chop them, fry them and throw them into a bowl of chopped herbs and mix it all up with fish sauce and crushed peanuts amongst other things. An order of banh dap aka smashing rice paper comes on the side as does a plate of soft rice papers and three different sauces including the most pungent fermented fish sauce you'll come across. I would say this is a must. The food and the little village were well worth the walk.

Close-Up of Banh Trang at Quan Ben Tre
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White Rose Restaurant 

One of Hoi An's most famous regional dishes are the famous White Rose Dumplings. However unlike alot of other popular dishes only one family makes these. They then supply them all over town and into other parts of Vietnam. They have their own restaurant too which is where they make them.

Family making White Rose Dumplings in Hoi An

The restaurant only has two things on the menu. The famous dumplings and also a fried wonton pizza with mango's and more. The White Rose Dumplings are made using a secret family recipe so other than the fact they're made with a very thin rice paper and stuffed with meat we dont know much else. White Rose serves their dumplings topped with strips of fried garlic and a really tasty sweet and sour fish sauce on the side. Other restaurants prepare them differently but I only got to try these. Not bad.

White Rose Dumplings at White Rose Restaurant
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Soup Vendor in Hoi An

Here's one I just tried on a total whim while waiting to meet some friends. This lady was selling an interesting looking soup and I walked over to take a look and before I knew it she reeled me in to try a bowl. She gave me one and sat me down at the table with the guy in the upper right corner of the picture up above. I asked him what this was and he said "soup" and kind of laughed knowing I wasn't sure. This bowl had tons of little balls of gelatin similar to tapioca or something. But it wasn't a sweet dish. It had all the classic pungent flavors of Vietnamese soups just a slightly different texture.
 
Soup from a Streetside Vendor in Hoi An
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Banh Mi Vendor in Hoi An

This cart was parked on a corner on my walk home from the bar on night one. I couldn't resist a sandwich to end the night. The lady making this put on a little bit of a show as she put it together. I dont think this cart is anything more than the common Banh Mi cart found around town but the quality of the product was more proof that Hoi An takes it's Banh Mi as serious as anybody.

Banh Mi on the Streets of Hoi An 
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Bánh mì Phượng

There's quite a few favorites when it comes to Banh Mi in this city. One of them is Bánh mì Phượng. Aside from the fact lots of locals and expats pack the place you will also see lots of tourists in here too. That's bc Anthony Bourdain named this the best Banh Mi sandwich in the country. I went ahead and got the deluxe which is basically everything and I have to disagree with Anthony. While this was a really well constructed sandwich it wasn't touching the first one of the trip. But I'm glad I tried it.

Banh Mi Sandwich at Bánh mì Phượng
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Thanh Cao Lau

Next stop came personally rec'd from one of the friendly workers at our hotel. I asked where his favorite bowl of Cao Lau was and this place was his answer. I liked the fact we were the only tourists there when we arrived. Cao Lau is perhaps the foremost food of Hoi An. It all starts with the signature namesake noodles. These are made from local fresh rice (not older grains) and the end consistency is extra chewy. It's said this dish cant be replicated outside of this area bc the water used to make the noodles must come from a well in nearby Be Le. Much like Mi Quang there's only a little bit of broth used in this dish too. Also in it are slices of roast pork, crispy and totally addictive cracklins, bean sprouts, lettuce, and herbs. Talk about the best Vietnam dishes and this should be mentioned.

Cao Lau at Cao Lau Thanh
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Ganesh Indian Restaurant 

Indian food in Vietnam? Not bc we were sick of Vietnamese cuisine but bc this spot has a big time backing. I guess this place has locations across Vietnam but the Hoi An spot is said to be  best. Ganesh Indian Restaurant would turn out to be some of the most delicious food we ate this trip. By far the best Indian I've ever had. Which shouldn't be too surprising bc the Indian population is almost as nomadic as the Chinese. This was indeed the real deal on all levels. I've still been thinking about it.

Prawn Curry, Garlic Naan, Chicken Tikka Jalfrezi 

The menu is filled with delicious sounding dishes including specialties from both Northern and Southern India. Prawn curry was so flavorful and full of pungent aromas while prawns themselves were perfectly plump and not a second overcooked. You can attribute their freshness to the fact we were on the sea in Hoi An. But the dish that I still yearn for is the Chicken Tikka Jalfrezi. It consisted of charcoal grilled pieces of chicken cooked with tomato, onion, capsicum and green chiles. It was the best of both worlds when it comes to Indian cuisine. Smoky meat and spicy curry. Go here.

Chicken Tikka Jalfrezi at Ganesh Indian Restaurant
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Salty Sea Restaurant 

I kept seeing people eating this dish around town and it kept calling my name. Last day here we decided to rent a scooter and take a ride towards the beach. Maybe not the best decision as it was low 60's and windy with light rain so the ride was kind of cold. The beaches were empty since it wasn't the season but I would love to get back when it is. It's a beach community at heart. These clams came grilled and topped with garlic, peanuts, and greens. They were every bit as good as they looked. I dont have the exact name of this dish but it's popular all over town and on every seafood spots menu.

Grilled Clams in Hoi An
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Phi Banh Mi

This is the third spot that people cant get enough of when it comes to the local specialty Banh Mi. It's the top rated spot on TripAdvisor and I think it has a perfect score with 100's of reviews. This doesnt mean anything necessarily except maybe it is really good. One of the things people love about it is the addition of avocado. I got the Phi special which includes cheese, egg, pork, pate, avocado, cucumber, papaya-carrot salad and herbs. This too was really good but I cant say it was better than the Madam. Still this would probably be the best Banh Mi just about anywhere else out there.

Phi Special at Phi Banh Mi
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Hoi An Night Market 

The Hoi An Night Market is in the center of town, so about a 15 minute walk from Old Town. It consists of over 50 local vendors selling a variety of local snacks, trinkets, clothing, jewelry, and of course lanterns. It's said to be one the most popular markets in Vietnam. It takes up a few blocks worth of street that overlooks the Thu Bon River. It's definitely tourist driven but the food that vendors are cooking is a good product. I tried just about everything as far as the stands go. There are some restaurants too and many people were eating at them but the vendors were what I was there for.

Banh Trang Nuong Vendor at The Hoi An Night Market

There were several stalls selling these grilled rice paper sheets. This was a classic version of the dish but as you'll see later on they have other types too. Choose a vendor making them fresh.

Banh Trang Nuong (Grilled Rice Paper) in Hoi An

Hoi An: The City of Lanterns

 Muc Rim (salted meats) Vendor

Banh Chuoi Thai - Banana Pancake Vendor 

Banh Trang Nuong- Rice Paper Pizza Vendor 

This stall was popular for their rice paper pizza which is popular with the young Vietnamese crowd. I had to try one and found it to be delicious in a guilty pleasure sort of way. It had mayo and bbq sauce as well as green onions and other stuff I forget but it all came together inside the crispy rice paper.

Rice Paper Pizza at The Hoi An Night Market

Mrs. Lan

This lady was frying stuff to order which isn't common practice among street food vendors. I got an egg roll stuffed with pork. Not the most interesting eat of the night but cheap and delicious.

Fried Spring Roll at The Hoi An Night Market

Hieu Hien BBQ

Last stop in Vietnam was just about perfect. I walked by this little street side stand selling grilled skewers of fresh cooked pork. The lady grilling them over live fire looked like a pro and the smell was so good I was ready to sit down and order a few. There was a miscommunication somewhere and I got what was probably like 5 orders instead of five skewers. Nonetheless these were good enough not to leave any on the table. The idea was you take the skewer and wrap it with some of the lettuce and cucumbers and then wrap that in a rice paper and pull it off and eat it like a spring roll. My god were these memorable. The peanut like sauce was perfect for dipping them into. Onto Thailand we roll.

Thit Nuong (Grilled Pork) at Hieu Hien BBQ
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Note: To find the locations of all the spots featured in this post, as well as places I didn't make it to, please click HERE for my google maps guide to Hoi An.

1 comment:

Ngô Minh Đức said...

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