Hungry in Hoi An

After you’ve settled into your new Hoi An custom-tailored wardrobe, hit the streets in search of food and burst a few buttons on those new duds of yours. Your well-dressed taste buds will notice a flavor that resembles a blend of Chinese, Vietnamese and fusion (i.e., experimental and not traditional). Some dishes even purportedly (and oh so exotically) call for water from a local well. Anyhow, it’s all fairly satisfying, if questionably authentic.

Here are a few of our favorite Hoi An dining experiences:

Mango Rooms

Deliberately hip ambience, playful decor and fusion food served up in what feels like your interior decorator’s living room. Every dish has – surprise! – mango as one of the ingredients. We noshed on tempura fried vegetables (okra, sweet potato) with mango curry sauce. Salads included mango slices, rubbed chicken pieces, vermicelli, basil, coriander, and various other greens.

Mango and Sticky Rice - Hoi An, Vietnam
Lunch at the Mango Rooms in Hoi An, Vietnam

Finish yourself off with yellow sticky rice, topped with mango, coconut milk, and toasted peanuts. Even more beautiful looking dishes come out of the walk-through kitchen…we’re told that those are reserved for the owner and his friends or guests.
Address: 111 Nguyen Trai Hoc, Hoi An, Vietnam

Cafe des Amis

On the riverfront with a small indoor and outdoor eating area. Take your choice of a seafood or vegetarian taster menu (90,000 Dong or $6). One menu proved more than enough for two people. Seafood taster includes:

  • White Rose dumplings (a must, as only one Hoi An family has the recipe, and thus a monopoly on their production) – rose-shaped shrimp dumplings topped with fried garlic and onions and, sided with a swab-worthy spicy sauce.
  • Crab soup with soy
  • Rice chips (like a crunchy rice pappadum) served with a warm squid salad (squid, peppers, onions, greens) and generous fish chunks sautéed in a golden baby shellfish sauce, sided with a lemon ginger dipping sauce.
  • The meal ended with crème caramel in a cup.

Address: 52 Bach Dang, Hoi An, Vietnam

Cafeteria Ly

Not too far from the main market, this modest place serves up some of the best wantons and Cao Lao in town. Wantons are generously stuffed with meat, freshly sauteed shrimp and dished with peppers, onions and tomatoes on top. Sweet, fresh, crunchy, and salty all play nicely on this Chinese flavor playground.

Fried Wantons - Hoi An, Vietnam
Fried Wantons at Cafeteria Ly- Hoi An, Vietnam

Cao Lao is a famous Hoi An specialty of thick (thicker than bucatini?) round noodles, thinly-sliced pork, and cilantro. Pieces of broken rice cake transform this into a savory texture play. The soy sauce is not your average Kikkoman either. It tastes brown and earthy, like a cousin of Tamari.

Cao Lau - Hoi An, Vietnam
Cau Lau – Hoi An, Vietnam

Both dishes far exceeded our expectations and were fresh, full of different tastes and outfitted with adequate piles of fresh herbs.
Address: 22 Nguyen Hue St, Hoi An, Vietnam

Photo Essay: Hoi An and Central Vietnam

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Comments

  1. Hung Thai says

    Hi y’all, I’m a native from Hoi An. Your report is awesome, with lots of meticulous details. Anyway, it’s Cao Lau, not Cao Lao :D. Do you know the historical origin of this specialty?.

  2. says

    @Hung: Thanks for the correction about Cao Lau spelling. We saw so many variations of it in restaurant menus. No, we don’t know the historical origins of the dish. Do you?

  3. says

    Wow! You two have visited a LOT of places :) I was flicking through and saw this article about food in Hoi An. We loved it so much, we decided to stay for 5 more days. Miss Ly Cafe served the best Won-Tons in Vietnam. We didn’t eat at Mango Rooms, but from your description I wish we had. Did you try Morning Glory Restaurant? This was another favourite of ours, especially their Shrimp on Sugar Cane Skewers, nom nom.

  4. says

    @Kate: We’ve been fortunate to visit a lot of places, but the world is big place. Still have a ways to go :) We didn’t try Morning Glory Restaurant, but the sound of shrimp on sugar cane skewers sounds divine!

  5. Hung Thai says

    How clumsy I am to forget replying to my previous comment !.
    Well, the history is quite simple. In the past, when Hoi An was a busy and flourishing port, there were many Chinese and Japanese people here(for business). Then, Hoi An native people just discovered a cooked kind of flour. They mixed that cooked flour with many sources and ingredients to have “Cao Lau” as known today. However, at that time, this kind of food was only served for noble and wealthy people, especially Chinese and Japanese merchants and their family. In addition, these people just ate the food on high buildings, i.e. second/third floor, because of their culture, i.e. discrimination toward poor people which are supposed to be “under” them(you can see these scenes in Chinese movies). Therefore, a terminology was coined. “Cao” means “high” or “noble” or “wealthy” and “Lau” means “floor”(in a house/restaurant/building) in Vietnamese. That’s it. Hope you guys find this piece of information interesting.

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