Negotiating Hoi An's street food stalls
What is a street food stall?
What we say:
Vietnam is a fast-food nation based around slow-cooked food. Breakfast and lunch is taken on the hoof — it’s pho to go and rice on the run until you sit down for dinner with the family at the end of the working day. Street food is king, with mobile snacking a close second. Here’s our rundown on what you’ll find in Hoi An while on the go.
In Hoi An, to have a permanent structure on a permanent pitch is a rarity unless you are working from the front room/motorbike garage of your roadside home. You’ll find very few who have ‘made it’ to the top of the rung, however stumble across one of these and you will be rewarded with some of the best examples of street food to be had. Phuong Bahn Mi on Hoang Dieu Street backing on to the central market is for very good reason a must-try.
Permanent mobile stalls
A permanent mobile stall is one which rucks up each morning to set up on its own pavement pitch for the day. More often than not these stalls trade in bahn mi or nuoc mia (sugar cane juice) with the occasional barbecue firing up in the late afternoon. When Hoi An shook hands with UNESCO, all these traders in the old town were relocated to the central food market in town, one of the best spots to sample a good cao lau or mi quang, and to a covered area to the far left of An Hoi, in an effort to keep the streets clean. Step out of the pedestrianised streets however and you’ll be spoilt for choice.
These mobile vendors often seen walking their carts up the road in their pyjamas are the owners of semi-permanent pitches, perhaps at a market or streetside location shared by several vendors. A great Hoi An example is the massive banyan tree on Tran Cao Van Street, where the 07:00 slot is held by an old Ba selling the sweet bean soup of che (one of the most popular in town). She hangs up her ladle at 11:00 to be replaced by the fruit juice lady, who later joins rank with the pork noodle-bun thit nuong family at around 14:00 each day.
With no fixed trading abode you’ll find motorbike food vendors cruising the streets touting their wares on bikes laden with pots and pans, occasionally sporting a smoking barbecue strapped tightly to the petrol tank. The food you buy from these traders in Hoi An is not often found in restaurants — it’s a whole new menu of 5,000 to 10,000 VND treats waiting to be flagged down and sampled.
And the must-tries? Listen out for “banh chung day, cha day” — “I sell sausages”, delicious pork stuffed in banana leaf. And you can’t leave Hoi An without trying a banh beo, a yummy steamed bun packed with a quail egg and pork.
Easier to flag down than their motorbike riding friends, the menagerie of conical hat-wearing vendors sell a variety of cheap eats. The corn ladies who patrol the streets, shouting what may sound like “assss hooole” from February till October are well worth risking 2,000 VND over, selling what seems like 101 different corn dishes with a side order of sweet milk.
It’s the photo we all go home with, the two-baskets-on-a-pole wielding ladies selling everything from fruit to full-blown meals. In Hoi An the best way to find them is to head to the market on riverside Bach Dang Street, where you’ll find a whole array of snacks from Hoi An’s famed white rose – plump shrimp filled rice dumplings — through to tiny sea snails. A great thing to try here is the betelnut. Just 1,000 VND will get you a lesson in rolling and chewing the nut from an old Ba, and maybe some of the best photo opportunities to be had.
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