Holidays

Eating Our Way Around Vietnam Part 2: Hoi An

Apologies for the delay in getting this post up. Real life has got in the way since we got back.

After our wonderful time in Hanoi and Halong Bay we flew south a little way to the beautiful town of Hoi An.

This is a really interesting place which is both a port and a riverside town with Japanese merchant houses and Chinese temples. It’s famous for its lanterns which are strung between the ancient buildings and light the streets at night.

It is also a mecca for foodies. We were only there for three days but we tried to sample as much as we could in this time.

Within hours of arriving at our lovely hotel, which was set in a rice paddy with water buffalo grazing, we decided to try the local delicacy – white roses or banh vac.

These are delicate, translucent dumplings stuffed with shrimp paste and topped with crispy onions. While they are lovely to look at, we found that they did lack a little in substance, compared to the more filling rolls we’d sampled previously.hoi an1

Cao lau is another dish which is only found in Hoi An and is made up of noodles, slices of roast pork and local greens. The dish is served at room temperature and the water used for the broth is only found in Hoi An wells.

Sometimes the dish is topped with crispy pork rind or fried onions. This was a great choice for lunch because the addition of salad leaves made it light and the portion size was not too big.

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On our first night we ate at a restaurant called The Market which is a huge room with stations set around the outside, all with people making different specialities.

The menu was huge and hard to navigate on an iPad but in the end we decided to go for the banh xeo,or crispy savoury pancake, beef in betel leaves and pork and shrimp fried dumplings – that’s just to start!

The Vietnamese love to wrap their food in lettuce or rice paper, even if it’s already rolled in something else! The banh xeo is rolled with herbs and then in rice paper, which can make for a messy time. We ended up having to pick all of the bits of bean sprout and shrimp which fell out with our chopsticks!

The food was excellent and so well presented. We definitely over ordered but with limited time in Hoi An we needed to try everything!

hoi an3The standout dish for our main course was the prawn curry with glass noodles cooked with and served inside a coconut. This dish actually reminded us of food we ate in Sri Lanka but it was incredible.

For some reason we couldn’t work out, the waiter set the coconut alight after serving it but once the flames had gone out we couldn’t keep our chopsticks away.

The prawns were huge, bulging out of the top which was a riot of colour with the green mint leaves and yellow of the sauce.

Again it was a mix of textures and contained a lot more spice than we had tasted further north in Hanoi.

For me, this was a contender for one of the best meals of the holiday.

The restaurant was a bit more expensive than we’d become used to in Hanoi but that’s probably because we ordered so much.

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Another memorable dish from Hoi An was banh mi which is usually associated with the south but appeared to have crept its way to the central areas too.

I’m sure most of you know about banh mi since loads of places now serving them in pop-ups or Vietnamese cafes in London.

We had heard there was a really popular place in town called Banh Mi Phuong where we could try this delicacy.

It was a bit like a production line with four people lined up making one of the nine varieties of baguette and filling on offer.

Having spent the morning doing yoga we decided to share three!

Sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s inside banh mi which did worry me a little bit as I’m not a fan of processed, brightly coloured meat…

We worked out that the first baguette contained pork, pate, beef, egg, herbs and chilli sauce. This was actually a bit too much for us and our least favourite. There were too many competing flavours and the mix of meat was a bit overwhelming for me.

hoi an7

The next two we think contained just pork and pate and were much tastier. The bread was so light on the inside but crispy outside and we could really appreciate the flavour of the spicy meat. Again though, I had to push my concerns about the meat and its origin out of my brain and just enjoy it for what it was.

It may be one of Vietnam’s most popular fast foods but I’m afraid to say it didn’t totally win me over.

However, this was the only meal which disappointed me in Hoi An which we loved.

As well as eating, we did a lot of cycling, Matt had a suit made and we explored all of the old temples and landmarks. There are also loads of options for cooking lessons. We didn’t do one though, we were too busy drinking beer…!

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Recommendations:

The Market and Morning Glory – owned by the same people

Serene Garden

Hai Cafe and Cooking School

Lantern Town

:: We stayed at the Hoi An Ancient Village Hotel which is a 15 minute cycle out of town and has a lovely pool and beautiful gardens.

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