Jan 02 2013
Hoi An’s reputation for being one of the most touristy towns in Vietnam might put some people off a visit; and yes, the 460 tailors all squabbling for your business as you stroll through the old town can be a little relentless, and yes, $5 a night accommodation doesn’t exist. Some of the best dining, however, outside of the big cities of Hanoi and Saigon can be had here, from cheap street eats to fabulous five-star feasts. If you are looking to sample some of the finest fare Vietnam has to offer, Hoi An makes for the ultimate gourmet getaway. And not only can you rampage your way through regional cuisine, you can learn to cook it too, quite often at the very place you tried it.
With top international chefs Gordon Ramsey, Anthony Bourdain, Luke Nguyen and The Hairy Bikers all having passed through Hoi An, we even have a few cooking celebrities: Ms Phuong of bahn mi fame, still serving the exact same dish from the humble street stall that Bourdain put on the map back in 2009 and mild-mannered entrepreneur Ms Vy, who is the driving force behind Mermaid, Cargo, Morning Glory, Cua Dai Hotel and the ingenious new Market Restaurant on An Hoi near the night market.
The latter is a sumptuous three-storey restaurant take on street food, where you can order and watch regional specialities cooked at individual “stalls” with choices including every day dishes, seafood barbecue and a brilliant section featuring the weird and wonderful – quite possibly the only place we’ve been brave enough to sample silk worms and jellyfish.
The Tran family responsible for the famous Hoi An delicacy white rose have featured in many travel shows and then there’s the charming Duc, the famed chef responsible for the exceptional Mango Mango and Mango Room restaurants in town, where the food he serves tells the story of his culinary adventures through Malaysia and the Americas after fleeing Vietnam as a refugee. His latest “coming home to mama’s cooking” restaurant Mai Ca opened its doors in 2012 with an affordable menu packed full of real Vietnamese family recipes; this is one of the only places in town where the seafood hotpot lives up to its price tag.
Hoi An’s speciality dishes cau lao, white rose, com ga and mi quang all originated in Quang Nam province, where most recipes were heavily influenced by the hordes of traders that lingered in town during Hoi An’s 17th century reign as the main marine silk road trading port.
The street food culture in Hoi An has actually been enriched by the impact of tourism to the town, drawing vendors from as far afield as Hanoi and the backwaters of the Mekong Delta to serve up their own specialities, which means that during a stay in Hoi An you get to sample all the best Vietnamese cuisine without the travel.
Sadly some of those vendors have become a little bit famous for their tourist pricing system, but you can avoid that with a visit to the central market food hall which is filled with former street vendors all working to a fixed price system. As it’s surrounded by a bustling local market, it means you still get that local atmospheric eating experience.
As for international cuisine, it would take less time to list what Hoi An doesn’t have; what it does have however is some of the most outstandingly good options if you feel the need for some home comfort food, again due to the high numbers of tourists — with as many restaurants in town as tailor shops they don’t last long unless they serve consistently great food at good prices.
If we still haven’t persuaded you to mingle with the tourists in Hoi An, you could just pass through town in low season, when you’ll find no crowds, great food, lower-priced accommodation and great weather.
Nguyen Thi Minh Khai St (over the Japanese Bridge)
Mermaid, Morning Glory & Cargo
Nguyen Thai Hoc Street
Bach Dang Street
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