Hoi An was a major trading port in the Middle Ages. It was in the times of the Champa Kingdom and as early as the 7th Century it traded in spices with Indonesia. Not surprising this UNESCO World Heritage site is a regular inclusion in Vietnam travel packages and it is very accessible for those taking a holiday in Vietnam. The internal transport infrastructure in Vietnam is good and Danang which is nearby, just to the north, has regular domestic flight connections with Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City as well as some international flights.
Apart from wandering around the Old Town where the influence of the Chinese who first came here in those Middle Ages is very apparent, you should sample a speciality of the City, Cao Lau. It is the favourite of all the Province, Quang Nam, and the most famous part of Hoi An cuisine, vermicelli made from the local sticky rice.
Hoi An is famous for its food tours and there are plenty of good restaurants as well as street vendors who will sell fresh food to you during your time in the City.
When it comes to Cao Lau, the rice is soaked in water from the wells in Ba Le Village; this ensures the soft texture of the noodles. The other ‘’ingredient’’ is ash from the Cham Islands nearby. Cao Lau is eaten with a variety of meat, typically pork,and green vegetables. They are good with bean sprouts and have a special flavour which discerning diners will detect. The dish that everyone talks about will also have pancakes, green cabbage which is bitter and some coconut.
There is a debate about whether water can be used from other wells and indeed whether a family with no tradition of making Cao Lau can really replicate the traditional way of making this iconic dish. It is not something that tourists travelling in Vietnam will be able to make a decision about but each should certainly try the dish as it is served today. Although it has the appearance of a Chinese dish, it is not thought that its origins are in any way Chinese though there is no record of anyone laying claim to having produced it first.
Inevitably, as the number of tourists has increased, there are more places looking for trade and some have ‘’modernised’’ Cao Lau to include shrimp and additional herbs. Shrimp and squid are both common in the waters and have naturally become part of Hoi An cuisine. One thing that you can be certain about if you order Cao Lau is that there will be noodles! Restaurants in the City are often on two levels and if you want Cao Lau it is likely that it will be served on the higher level.
Whatever its origin, Cao Lau is something to try as you travel in Vietnam and enjoy the natural environment and the cultural heritage of the Country. Food is a further pleasure during the holiday and you will return with many happy memories, food included.