Hoi An Ancient Town, located on the banks of Thu Bon River in the central province of Quang Nam, today becomes one of the most visited tourism destinations in Vietnam. As one of major trading ports in Southeast Asia dating from 15th century to 19th century, the city has many historical and cultural features, and is a unique mixture of different architectural styles.
Not only famous for its heritage values recognized by UNESCO, Hoi An is known as a heaven for food lovers to enjoy Vietnamese traditional dishes and discover its sophisticated culinary art. A trip to the ancient town is not perfect without sitting side by side on little chairs with local people and other tourists and enjoys its street food. Here are 10 dishes that tourists should not miss out:
1. Cơm gà (chicken rice)
Hoi An is not the only home to chicken rice in Vietnam, but local people have developed its recipe and built reputations for the dish. Ingredients are selected carefully, including jasmine rice, a chicken, onions and sauce. Boiled chicken is cut into small pieces and then they are mashed with crushed onions, Vietnamese coriander and other spices to absorb their flavors. Rice is cooked with species and boiled with chicken broth. A bowl of chicken rice is served with shredded chicken, sliced onions, sour papaya, vegetables from nearby Tra Que village and sauce.
Recommended restaurants: Cơm gà Bà Buội (Ba Buoi chicken rice) at No 26, Phan Chau Trinh Street; Cơm gà Hương (Kiệt Sica) (Huong chicken rice) at No 60, Le Loi Street and Cơm gà Bà Ty (Ba Ty chicken rice) at No 23, Phan Chau Trinh Street.
Price: VND30,000-35,000 per person for plate
2. Cao lầu (noodles with roasted pork)
Tourists should not leave Hoi An without eating cao lầu, the foremost traditional dish of the town. Cao lầu is made with chewy noodles, smoky pork, crisp greens and bean sprouts. Diners can substitute pork with chicken, beef or seafood.
It is said to be dated in the 17th century, when Hoi An flourished to be an important trading port. This can explain why the cao lầu noodles are similar to Japanese udon than those in Vietnamese noodles dishes such as pho. However, cao lầu in Hoi have unique flavours which are only found there.
Recommended restaurants: Cao lầu Bà Bé in a market on Tran Phu Street, Cao lầu Trung Bac (Trung Bac cao lau restaurant) at No 87, Tran Phu Street and Thanh Cao Lầu at No 26, Thai Phien Street
Price: VND20,000-50,000 per person for plate
3. Bánh bao and bánh vạc (White rose dumplings)
You will not have a total experience with Hoi An’s food if you do not taste local specialties bánh bao and bánh vạc. Rice is the main ingredient for making the two kinds of dumplings, and both are always served on the same dish and share the same sauce. Bánh vạc is filled with ground shrimps, crushed pepper, garlic, onions, lemongrass and esoteric species while the bánh bao filling includes pork, mushroom, thinly sliced onions stir-fried with the esoteric species. Perhaps the species are the reason why dumplings can only be delicious in Hoi An.
The secret recipes for making white rose dumplings are held by one family in the town who makes the dumplings and distributes them to all local restaurants and food stalls.
Recommended restaurants: Bông Hồng Trắng (White Rose Restaurant) at No 533, Hai Ba Trung Street and Morning Glory Restaurant at No 106, Nguyen Thai Hoc Street.
Price: VND90,000 per person for plate
4. Bánh đập hến xào (Clams served with smashing rice paper)
Bánh đập is very well-known for tourists in the ancient town, but eating it with minced clams is quite new to diners. It is made from two pieces of crispy rice paper and wet rice paper, combined together and smashed on the table before enjoying it with special sauce with chili, which is made from fishes caught in Cua Dai beach.
Bánh đập hến xào is a combination of minced clams and smashing rice paper. Clams are fished from Hoai river, which runs through Cam Nam village. They are boiled and then fried with various vegetables and spices, including onions, peppers, chili, gingers and peanuts.
Recommended restaurant: Quán Bánh đập Bà Già (Ba Gia Restaurant) on Nguyen Tri Phuong Street
Price: VND8,000 for a bánh đập plate and VND20,000 for a hến xào plate
5. Chè bắp (Sweet corn soup)
There is nothing better than sitting down for enjoying chè bắp, one of the favourite desserts, after a few hours walking around the ancient town. When the natural sweet taste of corn planted in Cam Nam village and coconut milk melt in your mouth, the tiredness will go away. It can be eaten hot and cold.
Recommended places: Quán Bánh đập Bà Già (Ba Gia Restaurant) on Nguyen Tri Phuong Street, and many food stalls in Cam Nam village.
6. Bánh bèo (Steamed rice cake with shrimps)
Hoi An’s bánh bèo is bigger and thicker than those in Hue city. It is a mixture of rice flour and water, and its sauce is made from fish sauce, sugar, garlic, chili, and small shrimps. Bánh bèo is served in small bowls and diners have to use a “bamboo knife”, a bamboo shaped blade sharpeners. You can add more sauce or chili depending on your taste.
Only in the town can you taste sweet bánh bèo. Sellers add sugar when mixing the flour to make the cake. It is a bit strange to eat sweet bánh bèo with fish sauce, but the feeling and your curiosity will keep you order more cakes.
Recommended restaurants: Bánh bèo Rừng (Rung restaurant) at No 17, Dinh Tien Hoang Street; Bánh bèo cô Lan (Ms Lan’s steamed rice cake) at No 62, Phan Dinh Phung Street, and Bánh bèo bà Tý (Ms Ty’s steamed rice cake) on Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street, opposite to Phung Hung ancient house.
7. Mỳ Quảng (Quang noodles)
If you are in Hoi An, do not forget to try Mỳ Quảng one of the unique dishes in Quang Nam Province. It is cooked with rice crackers, shrimps, pork, quail eggs, and vegetables taken from nearby Tra Que village. Quang noodle soup tastes best when being served with a variety of herbs, such as mint leaves, houttuynia, cabbage, onion, and coriander. For vegetarians, it is mixed with fried tofu, mushroom, taro, carrots, seitan, peanuts, and vegetables.
Recommended restaurants: Mỳ Quảng Bà Minh (Mrs. Minh’s Quang noodles) in Cam Ha Commune, and Ms Ha, a street vendor on Thai Phien Street
8. Hoành thánh (Wonton)
When Hoi An became a major trading port in Southeast Asia, many Chinese traders settled in the port city and brought their food to the city. Local people made changes on the dishes to satisfy local tastes. Hoành thánh is one of them.
Wonton is made with rice flour and filled with ingredients such as shrimps, pork, eggs, and species. There are three types of hoành thánh: fried wonton, wonton soup, and wonton noodle soup. They are served with vegetables, mainly bean sprouts and coriander. When eating, you can add soy sauce and chili.
Recommended restaurants: Quán Vạn Lộc (Van Loc Restaurant) on No 27, Tran Phu Street and Quán Anh Dũng (Anh Dung Restaurant) at No 14, Ba Trieu Street
9. Bánh tráng (rice paper) – bánh cuốn (steamed rice rolls with minced pork filling) – bánh ướt (wet rice cake)
To get an insight into popular cakes in Hoi An, you should try bánh tráng, bánh cuốn, and bánh ướt. Bánh tráng used for Vietnamese food is traditionally made from rice, water and salt. Bánh cuốn in the ancient town is quite similar to bánh cuốn (steamed rice rolls) in Hanoi’s Thanh Tri District. However, here it is filled with shrimps, and diners eat the cake with onions and chả lụa (Vietnamese ham). Bánh ướt consists of rice noodle sheets, eaten with fish sauce, fried shallots, vegetables and Vietnamese ham. In Hoi An, bánh ướt with grilled pork is the favourite street food of many visitors.
Recommended places: You can try them at food stalls along the banks of Hoai River. It is cheap and delicious.
Price: VND15,000-VND20,000 per cake
- Bánh xèo (Rice pancakes)
It is not a must-eat dish in Hoi An but worth checking out. Bánh xèo, a Vietnamese style crepe, in the town is usually stuffed with shrimps rather than pork or beef. It is also filled with bean sprouts. Bánh xèo is served hot with a bowl of fish sauce with chili and garlic, and vegetables including lettuce, perilla, and basil.
Recommended restaurant: Quán Giếng Ba Lễ (Ba Le Well Restaurant) at No 45/51, Tran Hung Dao Street
Price: VND10,000 per cake
Discovering culinary art is the new and amazing experience for every tourist visiting Hoi An. A trip in the ancient town is not complete if you have not tried out all the 10 special dishes.