Vietnam

Eating like a local in Hoi An 

Hoi An is a wonderful city – it’s charming, full of history, quieter than most other Vietamese cities and has some great shopping! But perhaps one of my favorite things about my stay in Hoi An has been the food. The food here is the best I’ve tasted since I’ve been in SE Asia. I’m so in love with this city but if I stay any longer, I know I’ll begin to pack on the pounds…

To my surprise, it’s been a lot harder to eat vegetarian than I initially thought it would be. While I thought most places would have a vegetarian option or two, I was gravely mistaken. Tonight I learned that there are very few vegetarians in Vietnam. The buddhist nuns and monks eat vegetarian two days a month but as a whole country, almost no one eats vegetarian on a daily basis. 

With that being said, Hoi An has been quite vegetarian friendly – at least more than other cities I’ve visited in the south of Vietnam. The other night, my hostel hosted a cycling food tour of the city so we were able to get the “dish” (hahah get it…?) on all of the best, local places. Between that and wandering the streets on my own, I believe I’ve mastered the art of eating like a local in Hoi An. 

The first day I went to the central market and ate this delicious wonton tofu dish known as Hoanh Thanh Chien. The wontons were fried, the tofu crisp and there was a sweet and spicy glaze. I slurped down an avocado coconut smoothie on the side. The wontons and the smoothie cost me 50,000 VTD or about $2.22 USD. 


Our first stop on the night street food tour was a place that served snails. I did not partake in this dish, but I heard they were good – spicy and slimy but good. I believe this bowl of snails (there were a LOT of snails) cost about 50,000 VTD. 
Second stop on the tour was Mrs. Dung’s can cake. This was actually my favorite stop so I went back last night and got her famous Banh Can as an appetizer for my last supper 😦 The dish consists of greens, bean sprouts, fried dough and fried eggs and is topped with this sweet oil. I had the pleasure of seeing Mrs. Dung preparing the dish last night – what a special treat! This dish, which is not large enough to be a main course, cost me 20,000 VTD or About $1 USD. 

Mrs. Dung!
 

Next we stopped at the most popular food stand in all of Hoi An – Banh My Phoung. Anthony Bourdain visited here and claimed this to be a “symphony in a sandwich.” Banh Mi, a staple in the Vietnamese diet is a baguette filled with pickled papaya and carrots, cilantro, chili, cucumber, tomato and a meat. Banh Mi is typically eaten for breakfast or for a snack. A full Banh Mi sandwich cost me 14,000 VTD or .62 cents. Never will I ever pay more than $4 USD for a Banh Mi at home again..especially if it’s not Banh My Phoung. 

We found ourselves back in the market for some Banh Xeo or fried  Vietnamese rice pancakes. The Vietamese use the word, pancake, to describe a lot of different foods. Basically, if it’s round, flat and fried, it’s a pancake! Banh Xeo is made out of rice flour, water and turmeric powder. We rolled the fried pancake and greens in wet rice paper and  then dipped them in this mouth-watering peanut sauce. Again, not enough for a full meal but definitely a tasty appetizer. These pancakes cost me 20,000 VTD or about $1 USD. 

A trip to Hoi An would not be complete without indulging in their two main specialities, which cannot be found anywhere else in Vietnam.  Cao Lao is made up of fried noodles, slices of BBQ pork, fried pork rind, bean sprouts, lettuce & herbs in a savory dark broth. Cao Lao is served in every restaurant and at every food stand – the locals eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Luckily, I was able to find a vegetarian Cao Lao dish in the central market that substituted tofu for the pork. Man, it was delicious and I think I’ll grab some on my way out of Hoi An. Depending on the place, Cao Lao costs anywhere from 20,000-25,000 VTD or just over $1 USD. 

The second speciality of Hoi An is Banh Bao Vac or “white rose.” These are small dumplings made out of rice paper that are stuffed with minced shrimp and spices and then folded to resemble the shape of roses. They are a bit more expensive as they are stuffed with seafood and are truly a work of art. I ate at a wonderful vegetarian place that recreated the white rose using vegetables. The picture below does not do this tasty dish justice as the vegetables don’t hold as tight of a shape as the shrimp do. These meal cost me 40,000 VTD or about $2 USD but depending on where you go, a white rose dish can cost up to 60,000-70,000 VTD. 

The next dish I had was called “mixed rice” in english ( I didn’t catch the Vietnamese name). It was rice topped with a mix of papaya, carrots, cilantro, tofu and spices and then topped with squeezed lime. This simple yet unique dish cost me about 40,000 VTD I believe? 

I’ve noticed the Vietnamese don’t enjoy dessert as much as Americans do. They love their tropical fruit and typically finish off each meal with fruit and tea (this in part, could be part of the reason they are so slim)! However, they do have one famous dessert in Hoi An and that’s the Xaoi cake, also known as mango cake. Little women line the streets of the Hoi An night market selling this sweet little treat. Don’t be fooled by the name – there is actually no mango in this cake. It’s a doughy texture that’s filled with a mixture of nuts and sugar…similar to the the filling of rugelach. One of these mango cakes costs me 5,000 VTD or about .25 cents. Believe me, you can’t just have one…

I’ve been drinking waaaaay too much coffee since I’ve been in Vietnam. It’s strong and sweet (if you choose to add condensed milk) and a little bit will keep you wired for HOURS! I found the cutest s little coffee shop here which I’ve already visited several times. I couldn’t resist slurping some down before taking this photo! This cafe is a tad bit more expensive so this “white coffee” cost me 30,000 VTD or about $1.50 USD. 

What really makes this feel more like a vacation instead of a long-term trip is the fact that I’m drinking coconut water from real coconuts on the beach! Hoi An feels like such a fairytale; part of me thinks I’ll “accidentally” miss my bus this afternoon…

Cheers to a week of wonderful food! Thank goodness for all the tailors here because I’m not sure I’ll be able to fit into the clothes I brought with me. Hahah kidding ( kind of). 

Sincerely Hoi An’s biggest foodie,

Al 

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