Nov 29 2012
If like me you were once one of those neanderthals where the best nights out you ever had somehow always ended up at a kebab stall then you will thank me for this heads up on late-night food snacking in Hoi An. I’ve researched this article with perhaps a little too much enthusiasm after taking everyone I know on the one-dollar beer crawl and for all the bahn mi (which I consider the breakfast dish of kings, but just doesn’t quite cut it just before bed), mi quang and bun thit heo in the world – and the sound of hardcore techno beats emitting from a small bicycle with high-beam fluorescent lighting wins my vote every time.
So addicted to these fluffy, steamed bundles of joy, I’ve trawled the neighbourhood on my moto and made friends with each and every banh bao retailer within a five-kilometre radius of Hoi An. Committed carnivore that I am, I even look forward to half and full moon when the mouth-watering pork is replaced by lightly shredded mushroom… Mon dieu!
Apparently we have the Cantonese to thank for the introduction of the baozi (big buns) to the Vietnamese, who embraced them with gusto and created their own version: the banh bao. Banh bao has become such a sacred dish it is even served at Buddhist temples throughout the country — you can’t say that about the kebab!
The best bahn bao to be had in Hoi An is down by the river on Bach Dang Street, where a little stall sets up shop at dusk almost opposite Cafe De Amis. It’s manned by a husband and wife team who charge a whopping 10,000 VND to tourists (5,000 VND to locals… snarl) for their big buns stuffed full of ground pork, shiitake mushrooms and a quail egg, all slow cooked in a five-spice sauce.
For after-hours big buns you need to head towards the coach station on Le Hong Phuong, where a Vietnamese war veteran dishes out my second-most favourite. At just 5,000 VND a go, this is where you will find the vegetarian mushroom versions on half and full moon nights.
Just one word of warning: between the two seconds it takes to get your order and the one second before you wolf it down, that paper at the bottom is not edible, so peel it off… And if you’ve tried and disliked bahn bao anywhere else, do try them again in Hoi An — you’ll be so glad you did.
Travelfish.org always pays its way. No exceptions.