Hoi An: The Food Capital of Vietnam
Commonly known as the "lantern city", this charming port town has become a destination for backpackers, beach goers, foodies, and fashion enthusiasts. As the mid point between the Northern and Southern providences, Hoi An’s culinary scene features flavors from those two distinct cultures in addition to French, Chinese, and Japanese influence.
Over the past two weeks I've been eating, exploring, and teaching a nutrition course in my favorite city in Southeast Asia; Hoi An, Vietnam. The small town sits on the central coast of the country, 3 hours south of the city of Hue, which was the capital of Vietnam up until 1976 when it was moved to the northern city of Hanoi. Between the 15th and 19th centuries, Hoi An was an important shipping port for the region, and in 1985 it was named a UNESCO heritage site in order to protect its traditional infrastructure. Now, the river that runs through the center of old town is often covered with floating paper lanterns in the evening, and fisherman and sailing fruit vendors during the daytime.
Hoi An is known for having some of the best food in the country, exemplified by its myriad of street food vendors and night markets. As the mid point between the Northern and Southern providences, Hoi An’s food scene features flavors from those two distinct cultures in addition to French, Chinese, and Japanese influence.
It comes as no surprise that the majority of Vietnamese cooking involves some variety of rice noodles. Rice is by far the country’s most important crop, and rice farms cover the perimeter of the town. Just like Hanoi has its Phở, each province of Vietnam has its own distinct noodle dish. Hoi An’s dishes are Cao Lầu and Mì Quảng, and much to my misfortune, cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
Cao Lầu consists of noodles made from fresh rice, while other types of noodles are made from older rice grains. The noodles themselves are thicker than others found in the region, and have a unique chewy texture and dark caramel color. The noodles are topped with barbecued pork, pork crackling, bean sprouts, and fresh herbs before being tossed with a small ladle of a pungent soy sauce and pork stock sauce.
Mì Quảng gets its name from Vietnam’s central Quang province, where Hoi An is located. The dish consists of yellow rice noodles topped with seafood, quail eggs, and plenty of fresh herbs and lime. The noodles in this dish are softer than those in Cao Lầu, and slightly flatter and wider. Both of the dishes are offered on every street corner, and usually cost around 40,000 Dong (Vietnamese currency) or about $1.75. USD.
If the food wasn't enough of a reason to visit this fantastic city, fashionistas should get on Expedia because Hoi An may be the cheapest place in the world to get custom made clothing. Hoi An is the textile capital of Southeast Asia, and is packed with expert tailors and seamstresses offering unbelievably low prices for custom made suits, gowns, leather jackets, shoes, handbags, bathing suits, you name it. All made to order within a day or two. It became a particular hobby of mine to sit on the steps to my hostel and watch as the male backpackers, who several days prior looked like they hadn’t showered in weeks, walked up in their three piece custom made suits looking dapper as ever. Professionals from all over the world fly to the city each year to pick up a new wardrobe for a fraction of the price of what they would spend back home (flight cost included).
Hoi An’s charming landscape and vibrant food and clothing industries make it a perfect destination for solo or group travels. Travelers fly into Da Nang Airport and take a taxi 45 minutes to Hoi An.