Considered by many to be Vietnam’s culinary capital, Hoi An offers a diverse menu of dishes to satisfy any craving.
“Hoi An is a unique city and the food is unique here, too,” says Trinh Diem Vy, a celebrity chef, food author and the owner of nine restaurants in Hoi An.
“You get a bit of Europe and a bit of Asia so everyone finds a bit of themselves here.”
A vibrant trading port from the 15th to 19th century, connecting the East with Europe, Hoi An’s townscape – and food – reflects a medley of influences from its past.
It was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.
Making cao lau from scratch
Though Hoi An might be one of the top destinations for foodies in the country there’s one dish in particular that’s truly emblematic of the ancient Vietnamese town’s rich and diverse history – cao lau.
Just look at the ingredients.
Thinly sliced barbecued pork – similar to char siu, its Chinese counterpart.
Fried croutons, a reminder of its French history.
Chewy rice noodles that bear a strong resemblance to Japanese udon.
“To make cao lau looks simple but there’s a lot in the timing and the processing,” says Vy.
The chef’s recipe – a closely guarded family secret – was passed down by her parents, who opened a restaurant when Vy was 10.
One factor that sets her cao lau apart from competitors is the noodles, which are made from scratch using rice and water – but not just any rice and water.
“Rice has to be long grain and old enough to make the noodles firm,” says Vy.
The water is taken from an ancient well in Hoi An, called Ba Le Well.
“The minerals from the water provides the right elements for the noodle texture,” says Vy.
The rice is then soaked, ground, mixed with the well water and kneaded into a dough.
It’s then thinly sliced and steamed over the fire to give the noodles a unique yellowish hue and springy texture.
Travelers can try – or learn to make – a bowl of handmade cao lau at Vy’s Market Restaurant & Cooking School.
Learn more about this tasty dish in the above video.
Getting to Hoi An: The easiest way to get to Hoi An from Hanoi, the gateway to Vietnam, is by plane. The closest airport to Hoi An is in nearby Danang and the Hanoi to Danang flight is just over an hour. A number of airlines make the trip several times a day.
Vy’s Market Restaurant & Cooking School, 3 Nguyen Hoang, Phuong Minh An, Hoi An; +84 235 3926 926
CNN’s Jon Jensen contributed to this feature.