A Foodie’s Guide To Everything Worth Eating In Hoi An, Vietnam
If you’ve ever visited Vietnam, you’ll know it’s home to some of the best food in the world. The infamous Banh Mi, Pho, and rice paper rolls are just the tip of the culinary ice berg, with a whole new world of flavours waiting to be discovered. For many foodies, Hoi An is their first stop when craving the best of the best food Vietnam has to offer—and I’m here to guide you through exactly what to eat, and where.
Once you set foot in Hoi An, you instantly forget the hustle and bustle of Vietnam’s metropolitan centres—you won’t find throngs of scooters endlessly beeping here, nor will you find the charming chaos that makes Vietnam so special. Instead you’ll find marigold-yellow French architecture, ancient Chinese tea houses, temples, and Japanese merchant houses, all still in immaculate condition lining its lantern lit river and life that moves at a much slower, quieter pace. Hoi An is a beguiling melting pot of Vietnam’s history, and you can taste it in its food.
I ate my way around Vietnam, and can hand on heart say that this beachside, rice paddy bordered city is home to my absolute favourite meals. So, if you’re ready to begin your Vietnamese gourmand journey you’re in the right place. Here is a list of the best food in Hoi An.
As Anthony Bourdain himself described it, Banh Mi is a symphony of a sandwich. Fans of his show, No Reservations, will remember how hard he fell for the bahn mi at Banh Mi Phuong. To this day, you’ll still find Anthony’s picture taking pride of place hanging right outside the restaurant, like a lighthouse beckoning hungry tourists. He’s even on the napkins. And trust me, the Banh Mi here is absolutely worth the hype. Think fresh baked, crusty-yet-soft baguettes, succulent meat, and the freshest, most fragrant herbs…ever. Do not miss this while in town.
The other contender for Hoi An’s best Banh Mi is Madam Khanh The Banh Mi Queen—yes, that’s really the name on the sign you’ll find hanging outside her humble street-stall-cum-restaurant. And if queen is in the title, you can guarantee the fare will be absolutely delightful. And it is! You’ll find less crowds here than at Bahn Mi Phoung, and as it’s further away from the old town there are naturally less tourists, but in my opinion, Bahn Mi Phoung is the undefeated Banh Mi champ of Hoi An. Try it for yourself and let me know who takes the crown.
By the way, both ladies prepare their dishes using ingredients bought fresh that very morning from the local market.
Let me begin this by saying this was the best meal I ate the entire time I was in Hoi An. To get your fix of this iconic Vietnamese pancake, you’ll want to head to Ba Le Well Restaurant. You’ll find this spot tucked away down a dingy looking alleyway, but trust me—the food is anything but dingy. There’s only one thing you can order here, and that’s the famous bahn xeo.
Once you’ve arrived, your table is immediately filled with all of the trimmings to make this iconic dish. There’s the crispy pancakes, the rice paper, the fresh herbs, lettuce leaves, dipping sauce, pickles and pork (two kinds: a meat ball style one and a grilled version) cooked on skewers over an open flame…I’m drooling just thinking about it!
To enjoy the dish, simply take your crispy pancake (pre filled with prawns, sprouts and shredded pork) and place it onto a sheet of crispy rice paper, then fill with your lettuce, herbs, pickles, and pork, then you roll it up like a taco, dunk it into your dipping sauce and enjoy the best meal you’ll eat in your life.
Oh, and the food here is bottomless! So once you’re done, your table will again be miraculously filled up with more deliciousness.
This dish is special because it’s Hoi An’s iconic local dish. What is it? A soupy bowl filled with slices of roast pork, crispy crackling, sprouts, herbs, and the famous Lau noodles, and sometimes topped with fresh lettuce. The noodles make the dish special, as they’re made with water from Hoi An’s old town wells (you can see one still around today at Ba Le Well—look for the UNESCO sign and you’re in the right place).
My tip to find the best version of this dish is to head to Hoi An’s central market and find a stall with the most locals, but if you’re less adventurous, Thanh Cao Lau has earned notoriety with the locals for good reason. These guys make the noodles fresh each day and open at 6am until whenever they sell out. There’s also no menu here, they only do Cao Lau, and they do it well.
Banh bao bahn vac (white rose dumplings)
This is another of Hoi An’s most famous dishes, and is as popular with the locals as it is with tourists. In terms of what to expect, the white rose dumplings are super thin, spongy (nothing like other dumplings!) and are slight translucent.
The dumplings are made to resemble a white rose—hence the name—and you’ll find them presented in the shape of a flower, with the dumplings acting as the white petals. They’re filled with a delightful combination of prawns and spices and served drizzled with a slightly sweet sauce.
As for where to find them, The White Rose Restaurant is the best spot in town. Plus, locals say in Hoi An that all restaurants selling the dumplings are still supplied by the grandson of the dish’s inventor who holds the key to the secret recipe, so you might as well go straight to the source. And you guessed it, they’re made with water from the Ba Le Well.
Thi Nhan Restaurant’s seafood
Truth be told, you can pretty much shut your eyes and point to anything on the menu here and be set—it’s all that good! This is another spot made famous after a visit from Anthony Bourdain, and for good reason. Thi Nhan is much more of an authentic, local offering which is what I prefer when travelling, so don’t come expecting a London style eatery, this is Vietnam at its best, authentic plastic stool self. Plus, you’ll find Thi Nhan right by the local prawn farms so you know your meal is fresher than fresh.
Order the huge crabs cooked in tamarind sauce, or the fresh grilled tiger prawns and be satisfied you’re eating at one of the best places in Hoi An, and feel just a little bit smug that the other tourists haven’t found out about it yet. If you’re after a more up market feel, Mango Mango is another great seafood option when in Hoi An.
Whatever you do, though, don’t leave Hoi An without trying the tamarind crab.
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