First published on Travelwire Asia, 16 January 2013
By Liz Ledden
THE historic Vietnamese coastal town of Hoi An has long been regarded a food-lovers’ hotspot. A wealth of fresh, local ingredients fuses with centuries of foreign influence, from traders to colonialists to modern-day expats, to form a truly dynamic eating scene.
Hoi An’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed Old Town is awash with excellent eateries from the simplest of street food stalls to sophisticated small bars and trendy restaurants. Local delicacies like cao lau and white rose grace many a menu, and the fresh local seafood is a must. Here are a few places to sample Hoi An’s memorable cuisine:
The latest restaurant from Duc and the crew from Latino/Vietnamese fusion restaurants Mango Rooms and Mango Mango, Mai Fish opened in late-2012 as a nod to the owner’s Vietnamese heritage. The menu here offers a round-up of classic Vietnamese dishes, albeit prepared and presented with attention to detail a notch above most local eateries. There’s an open kitchen, several rooms featuring vintage Asian décor, and a pervading sense of style. The cha gio are light and crispy, and the bun thit nuong (pork with rice vermicelli noodles) is flawless.
45 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai
Hai Scout Café
A stalwart of the Hoi An dining scene, and for good reason, Hai’s has a welcoming, casual atmosphere with outdoor seating in an enclosed courtyard. The menu features the greatest hits of local cuisine from grilled meats to soups to spring rolls, with some Western standards thrown in for good measure. A standout is the freshly grilled bo la lot, or beef wrapped in lot leaves, prepared on the restaurant’s outdoor barbeque.
98 Nguyen Thai Hoc
The Central Market
Hoi An’s Central Market has been revitalised in recent years to offer a more hygienic, orderly take on street food classics than most local markets. Easy to navigate, each stall has a clearly marked sign with the name of the dish and the price, with most around the 20,000 dong mark. Sample crispy banh xeo (two for 20,000 dong/US$1) – a delicious pancake wrapped around pork, prawns, beansprouts and fresh herbs, doused in condiments of your choice.
Tran Quy Cap
Lien Thao food stall
A string of humble food stalls can be found across the river from the Old Town, grouped under an awning. At Lien Thao, the calamari with lemongrass wrapped in banana leaf is a taste sensation, at a fraction of the price of most of Hoi An’s restaurants. On the night we visited the atmosphere was low-key, with mostly Vietnamese patrons grabbing a quick bite to eat on their way home from work. Expect friendly and prompt service, and delicious dishes best eaten communally.
Nguyen Phuc Chu Street
Hoi An’s restaurant scene is not only centred around the Old Town – its beaches feature some of the town’s best cuisine. An Bang Beach offers a chilled out alternative to busier Cua Dai Beach. Its row of beach shack eateries are a mix of Vietnamese seafood restaurants and foreign-owned offerings, from an Italian pizzeria to some laidback French places that attract a loyal following from Hoi An’s expat crowd. The paradisical Le Banyan offers tapas-style dishes combining French and Vietnamese influences, with some of the best using delicious local seafood. There’s a green grassy lawn overlooking the beach, a pool table by the well-stocked bar, and bamboo daybeds that lend themselves to lounging. Be sure to order the grilled scallops and the excellent chorizo.
Far left, An Bang Beach