Where to go for what
There’s something about camping down on a tiny plastic stool and experiencing dining the Vietnamese way in Hoi An, even if said stool is hanging treacherously over the gutter of a busy road, you’re ankle deep in bits of screwed up paper and you’ve not a clue what you’ll be served because you’ve followed that mantra of busy is best.
There’s that rewarding rush you get from a regular diner clocking the foreigner at the bench and giving you a nod of approval, the slightly elevated adrenaline level that surges when you not only don’t know the dish, but you’re not quite sure of the etiquette to follow once your meal is plonked down in front of you under the watchful stare of every diner present. You’ll notice the cook is bursting with pride because she knows you could have chosen to dine at Mai Fish, but you didn’t, you chose quan tu sang and in Hoi An, when a foreigner stamps their approval on your food, you’ve made it — just look at Ms Phuong of bahn mi fame. Your vendor is going to be the talk of the market by morning, especially if she was clever enough to charge you an extra few dong!
The great thing about Hoi An is you don’t need to venture too far out of the tourist (ahem) old town zone to stumble across a wealth of one-dish restaurants and street stalls that rarely attract the travelling masses. Hai Ba Trung Street (north of Ba Trieu) as far as An Bang beach, the back roads of An Hoi (avoid the covered tourist stalls to the far left of the bridge) and the little restaurants on the far side of the bus station near Le Hong Phong (an amazing goat curry place is one shop in from the corner) are all an easy five-minute cycle ride out of the chaos of “buy something” land.
Arguably the absolute best meal to take in on the streets is breakfast. Bun bo (a bit like pho), bahn bao (pork-stuffed steamed bun) and bahn mi op la (omelette sandwich) stalls start serving at dawn. It’s an early start — you’ll need to be there before 07:30 — but you’ll get to see Hoi An in a whole new light, as a town without tourists. It’s heavenly.
Lunch is served between 11:00 and 13:00. This is when you’ll be met by stalls laden with com ga, cao lau and bun cary (meat, fish or tofu curry). Dinner is served from 16:00 till stall holders run dry. This is when they fire up the barbecue and the scent of smokey marinated pork permeates through the petrol fumes. If you’re lucky you might even come across one of the “whole pig on a spit” cafes, where they will carve off slices of slow roasted pork and serve with a side of bahn mi – there’s a joint by the traffic lights on the old Da Nang Road about two kilometres from the bus station.
As for prices, expect to pay around 25,000 VND and for a large dish around 35,000 VND. Keep an eye out to see what others are paying and if your charming vendor crosses your price tolerance level, barter quietly. Don’t make her look foolish in front of her customers; remember the market gossip tomorrow.
By Caroline Mills
Last updated on 25th July, 2014.