I love to eat. Like, really love it. In fact, it’s such a high priority when we travel that not only do I make a list of things I want to do and see wherever we’re going, I also make a list of all the foods I want to try while we’re there, too.
That said, I’ve never been particularly skilled at food photography, and I’m always too impatient when my food arrives to even think about risking a cold meal in order to get some practice in, so my food photos when traveling are usually little more than hastily snapped, often blurry iPhone images. Certainly nothing worthy of sharing on the blog, that’s for sure.
I decided to make an exception in Hoi An, though, and actually put some effort into documenting my meals before frantically digging in like a half-starved mountain lion. One, because Vietnamese food is my favorite and I really want to be able to share my love of it with you. And two, well, this one’s a little more selfish – I wanted higher quality images to remember these amazing meals by.
Having heard that Hoi An was somewhat of a foodie destination in Vietnam, I arrived with dangerously high expectations for the meals I was about to consume. And how many times did I end up disappointed? ZERO. Chefs in Hoi An really know their way around a spice rack.
We’ve traveled to quite a few places over the past five years, but nowhere have we enjoyed the food more than we did here. Because I want you to have the same heavenly food experience in Hoi An, I took one for the team and sacrificed a few hot noodles to create this list of the best foods to try in Hoi An, plus give you a few tips on where to eat them. No need to thank me. It’s all part of the job. :)
What is cao lau? The dish Hoi An is most famous for consisting of thick rice noodles, savory slices of barbecued pork, bean sprouts, fresh greens, and crunchy crackers served with a light sauce.
Why you should try it: Because Hoi An is the only place you’ll be able to try a truly authentic bowl of cao lau. Supposedly, to be considered true cao lau, the water used to make the noodles must come from a very specific well located in Hoi An and the ash used for soaking the noodles must come from trees grown on the nearby Cham Islands.
While I think this is likely more old wives’ tale than actual practice these days, it’s always fun to sample a local dish in the place it was first created, and in this case, it’s so good you’ll probably want to sample it more than once!
Finding cao lau in Hoi An won’t be an issue. Most restaurants and cafes have it on the menu at varying prices.
Our favorite spot for cao lau was a small, open-air cafe in the Ancient Town called Mot. Here, you can enjoy a delicious bowl of cao lau for just 30,000 VND (a little over $1 USD).
Besides the excellent prices, the quirky decor, and the convenient location, the other thing we loved about Mot was the owner – a friendly elderly lady who, when she wasn’t busy serving, always came around to talk to customers. Despite wanting to try as many different Hoi An restaurants as we could, we found ourselves back at Mot a second time just because we felt so welcome there.
What is com ga? White rice cooked with pandan leaves in chicken broth and served topped with tender, shredded chicken, fresh coriander, and onions.
Why you should try it: Accustomed to the milder flavors and more simple presentation of Singapore’s chicken rice, we were pleasantly surprised to discover Vietnam’s version to be far more fragrant and colorful. There is an abundance of flavor packed into this relatively simple dish as well.
Another upside – if you’re traveling with picky eaters (aka: kids), you can ask that the onions and greens be left off, easily making this a child-approved meal.
Com Ga Ba Buoi in the city center is generally considered to be the best place to taste this zesty dish. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the opportunity to try it there, but we did discover a great restaurant along An Bang Beach, Wind and Moon Restaurant, that served what we considered to be an excellent plate of com ga.
Besides, if I had the choice to enjoy a meal with this view or in a crowded street cafe, I would choose the scenic view every time.
What is white rose? Delicate rice dumplings filled with either shrimp or pork and sprinkled with scallions and crispy fried onions, served with a dipping sauce of shrimp broth, sugar, lemon juice, and chilies on the side.
Why you should try it: Given the nickname ‘white rose’ due to their appearance, banh bao vac are little taste explosions. Even without the dipping sauce, they pack a punch thanks to the many spices the shrimp and pork are cooked with.
Supposedly, the recipe for white rose is a highly guarded secret and all of the dumplings sold in the city are made by the one family who knows it, so if you ever want to try them, you’ll have to do so while in Hoi An.
If you want to try banh bao vac directly from the source, you can pull up a chair at White Rose Restaurant where Tran Tuan Ngai and family serve their secret recipe.
However, you’ll be able to find them much cheaper elsewhere in town, and if the legend is true, you’ll still be eating the exact same dumplings you would at White Rose Restaurant. We loved to have these for a little snack in between meals and our favorite ones came from the same place we first tried com ga – Wind and Moon Restaurant on An Bang Beach.
What is ca phe? A strong cup of coffee balanced by the addition of sweetened condensed milk.
Why you should try it: Well, it’s served in a unique contraption for starters. When you ask for a cup of ca phe in Hoi An, you’re handed a coffee cup topped with a phin filter (French drip) that’s been filled with coarsely ground, dark-roasted coffee beans and hot water. The hot water slowly trickles through the filter, and after about 4-5 minutes, you’ll have a freshly brewed cup of coffee in your hands.
Secondly, it’s deliciously strong. To truly drink it Vietnam-style, be sure to stir in the sweetened condensed milk provided on the side.
Even if you don’t drink coffee, it’s still worth paying Reaching Out Teahouse a visit. The coffee and tea they serve is top of the line and their teahouse and back patio gardens are beautiful, but what really makes this place special is their mission.
Every person employed at Reaching Out Teahouse is either deaf or unable to speak. When you visit the teahouse, you’ll be asked to keep your voice low and you’ll communicate with your servers via written messages and visual cues.
Located in the center of the city, visiting Reaching Out Teahouse is a one-of-a-kind experience, and a wonderful way to support the deaf community in Hoi An.
What is banh mi? A hot, crusty baguette spread with homemade mayonnaise, signature sauces, and pâté, then filled with your choice of juicy meats and fresh vegetables. Vegetarian options are also available.
Why you should try it: If you’ve ever wanted to try something so tasty that it will quite likely cause you to drool as you’re eating it, do yourself a favor and try a bahn mi. Easily customizable to your own tastes, I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying the unique blend of flavors in these sandwiches.
In addition to being a super tasty lunch easily eaten on the go, banh mi is also ridiculously cheap. You’ll find banh mi commonly sold throughout the city for 20,000 VND or less. That’s under $1 for what may be the best sandwich of your life. Totally worth it.
It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but the long queue that stretches halfway down the street is an excellent indicator of the treasures that await inside Banh Mi Phuong.
Regarded as the best banh mi in Hoi An, I can personally attest to the fact that the sandwiches served here are well worth the wait. (The line moves relatively quick, but there’s also seating inside if you want to sit down and order.)
I recommend making this one of your first food stops in Hoi An, because chances are you’re going to love it so much you’ll want to return again before you leave.
What is bun bo nam bo? Thin strips of marinated beef, stir-fried, and then tossed with soft vermicelli noodles, vegetables, and nuoc cham – a blend of fish sauce, lime juice, chilies, and a little sugar.
Why you should try it: Ever so slightly spicy due to the chilies, the marinated beef in this dish is out of this world. A feast for the eyes and the stomach, I wasn’t even all that hungry when I ate this and I still finished the whole plate. (A by-product of having a long list of foods to try in a short amount of time meant my stomach forgot how to feel hungry here.)
The veggies included with bun bo nam bo seem to differ depending on who’s making it, and sometimes you might even get crushed peanuts sprinkled on top, but regardless of which version you receive, it’ll be a hearty, filling dish perfect for dinner after a busy day sightseeing.
Often called beef noodle salad (to differentiate between beef noodle soup), this is another dish you’ll find served all over the city.
Most restaurants in the Ancient Town have a version of bun bo nam bo on their menu. However, if you want to go the cheapest route, on the outskirts of Hoi An, you’ll find street food stalls that only serve this dish. If you decide to give bun bo nam bo a go here, I recommend choosing the one with the longest queue.
What is pho? The national dish of Vietnam – a healthy and highly tasty broth-based soup consisting of rice noodles, herbs, assorted vegetable garnishes, and either beef (pho bo) or chicken (pho ga).
Why you should try it: It’s the perfect introduction to Vietnamese food. Mild, but not the least bit bland thanks to a genius combination of herbs and spices, enjoying a bowl of pho in Vietnam is like eating pizza in Italy, sushi in Japan, or burgers in the US – you just have to do it, no matter how cliche it might feel.
It can be a little tricky scooping up the broth with a soup spoon in one hand and maneuvering chopsticks in the other for the noodles, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be full of yummy pho (and self-pride at your newly acquired skills) in no time.
Typically eaten for breakfast by locals, you’re still welcome to order pho any time of day you like. Since breakfast was provided at our hotel, we had no qualms about ordering pho often for lunch and dinner.
The best pho we tried was at Cham Cham Restaurant, located along the waterfront in An Hoi (the little island across the Thu Bon River from the Ancient Town). Popular with locals and tourists alike, we received great service at Cham Cham Restaurant and prices were extremely reasonable for the area. The best part, however, was definitely the gorgeous view of the river and the lights of Ancient Town we had from our table.
What is Mot tea? A refreshing herbal tea concoction of lemon, lemongrass, ginger, honey, and various herbs.
Why you should try it: Because it gets murderously hot in central Vietnam in the summer and you’re going to need something to cool you down as you make your way from site to site in the Ancient Town.
Sold out of a giant tea cauldron at the front window of Mot (yep, the same Hoi An cafe I recommend you get your cao lau), Mot tea costs just 10,000 VND a cup (under 50 cents) and comes complete with lotus petals and kaffir leaves, nature’s version of the paper cocktail umbrella.
FYI: No need to grab a table to order Mot tea, just queue up at the window.
While it’s likely everywhere you’ll eat in Hoi An will feel like eating on a budget since everything costs so little in Vietnam, there is one place you’re always guaranteed a cheap meal – the Central Market Food Hall.
The Central Market is Hoi An’s biggest and busiest street market selling all sorts of fresh fish, fruits, and vegetables for reasonable prices. If it’s a hot meal you’re after, though, head into the Food Hall where you’ll find an abundance of stalls serving up many of the things included on this list.
A bonus for travelers: Prices are marked on nearly every stall, so you won’t have to worry about being charged the ‘tourist price’ for your meal.
Any delicious foods to try in Hoi An I missed? I’d love to hear your favorite dishes!