Vietnam // The central coast //

Hoi An specialities

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Hoi An has a number of tasty specialities to sample. Most famous is cao lau, a mouthwatering bowlful of thick rice-flour noodles, bean sprouts and pork-rind croutons in a light soup flavoured with mint and star anise, topped with thin slices of pork and served with grilled rice-flour crackers or sprinkled with crispy rice paper. Legend has it that the genuine article is cooked using water drawn from one particular local well. Lovers of seafood should try the delicately flavoured steamed manioc-flour parcels of finely diced crab or shrimp called banh bao, translated as “white rose”, with lemon, sugar and nuoc mam, complemented by a crunchy onion-flake topping, adding extra flavour. A local variation of hoanh thanh chien (fried wonton), using shrimp and crab meat instead of pork, is also popular. One less heralded dish (and one of the cheapest) is mi quang, which sees a simple bowl of meat noodles enlivened with the addition of flavoursome oils, a quail egg, fresh sprigs of leaves – few tourists order this dish, and your ordering it may be met with surprise. To fill any remaining gaps, try Hoi An cake, banh it, triangular parcels made by steaming green-bean paste and strands of sweetened coconut in banana leaves.

Many Hoi An restaurants serve these dishes, but one good place to head is the cheap, market-like area at the eastern end of An Hoi Island. It’s a very cute place, with each section demarcated by the name of its chef, and their stated speciality.

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