No stay in Hoi An is complete without a visit to its Central Market. Located in Hoi An’s Old Town, this multifaceted market is the liveliest and largest one around. It spans five streets of the central tourist district. It’s a must-do experience not only for food lovers but also for photographers, shoppers, and anyone wanting true entertainment at pretty much any time of day.
While Hoi An’s Central Market is a lot of amazing things, laid-back isn’t one of them. Hidden has put together a guide to help capture the experience here and to help you make the most out of yours when it comes to getting a bite to eat.
In this article, we cover the Hoi An Central Market history. What to expect, how to get the best meals, and helpful Hidden Hints to ensure that your market dining experience is as memorable and delicious as possible.
History of Hoi An and its Central Market
Hoi An has historical importance as a trading centre in Vietnam. During the 15th century, the city became a commercial centre for the empire of the Cham, a Malayo-Polynesian peoples who controlled much of the lower and central coastlines of Vietnam. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Vietnamese Nguyen lords helped make it into an international trade port. Soon, it was considered the best place for trading in Southeast Asia. For merchants from China, Japan, and even parts of Europe.
While Hoi An declined as a trading centre in the 18th century, its commercial spirit and the city itself, which is recognized by UNESCO as an “exceptionally well-preserved example of a South-East Asian trading port,” remained intact.
The Central Market of Hoi An
This owes in part to its central market, which was built in 1848. Originally located on Nguyen Thai Hoc Street, the rectangular building included sections for fresh produce, meat, and fish. Water wells were built next to the market to supply vendors and the surrounding community.
Today, with its array of produce, meat, and fish on display, alongside souvenirs and steaming bowls of cao lau, the Hoi An Central Market is as bustling as it was centuries ago. However, the market building, wherein you’ll find the majority of its offerings, is no longer the original. It was demolished and rebuilt in the early 2000s, but the new building looks like it’s always been there.
Where is the Hoi An Central Market?
The central market is a walkable distance to all the main cultural attractions of Hoi An on the eastern side of town. You’ll find the food court entrance at the intersection of Tran Phu St and Nguyen Hue.
Expect it to be bustling with people from before sunrise until after dark. It spans all the way to the Thu Bon river and across from the Cam Nam bridge to the Museum of Folklore in the west. The amount of street vendors varies depending on the day. But the central market is by far the most popular and active market in all of Hoi An.
What Can You Find at the Hoi An Central Market?
You can get most of what you need here. If you go early, at 5 am, you can get fresh meat and fish. Fruits and vegetables are readily available all day long, and so is coffee, pantry ingredients, and house tools. Check out our Markets article for the complete offering.
The main reason to visit the central market would have to be the food court, which has mouthwatering selections of Hoi An’s specialities. Here, you can sample cao lau, banh xeo, white rose, and much more paired with juice, a smoothie, or Vietnamese coffee. With dishes costing anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 VND (.80 USD to 2 USD), it’s a fantastic place to get an affordable meal and some local flavour.
Guide to Visiting the Food Court
Once popular with locals, the central market food court increasingly now focuses on tourists to Hoi An. This is evident in the English menus and friendly sales pitches used by stall owners to entice visitors wandering through the food court.
However, just because it’s tourist-focused doesn’t mean it’s not tasty. You can get a good example of most local dishes at the food court. A little research, which can be a bit overwhelming, goes a long way when it comes to your central market food court experience in Hoi An. Stall owners and chefs are eager for your business, and you’ll know it from the moment you enter the building. You’ll likely be greeted and shown a menu and a seat by multiple hosts before you’ve had a moment to make up your mind.
The Food Court Vendors
Vendors pay a high price to rent their space. This means that keeping busy (and keeping you fed) is important to their livelihoods. Competition in the Central Market is fierce, and that’s good news for you because it means that most vendors at the central market offer a reasonably tasty, classic example of Hoi An local specialities. (Usually, Vietnamese street food vendors specialise in just one dish. But since the market is more tourist-oriented, most vendors have well over 10 items on their menu).
Food Court Location
You’ll find the entrance at the intersection of Tran Phu St and Nguyen Hue. Just look for the big yellow building with the massive red words “Cho Hoi An” (“Cho” is the Vietnamese word for “market”).
In front of the central market building is a well where vendors get their water to make Hoi An’s famous lau noodles. These are used to make the dish cao lau, which you can try either at the central market or any of these fantastic spots around Hoi An.
You’ll also see vendors selling snacks, like sliced mango and nem nuong (pork skewers), outside the market. The number of vendors you see here often depends on the time of day. Lunchtime and evening see the greatest concentration. This is when the tourist crowds are the biggest, making it the prime time to get a good pre or post-market snack fix.
Around the Market
Alongside the Central Market’s main building, you can pick up coffee and other pantry goods, wood carvings, bowls, and souvenirs of Hoi An. The older women who sell these items are quick with a smile and a greeting and can have you quickly piling up your purchases before you know it. As you walk along toward the second or back building of the market, you’ll see vendors selling piles of freshly made noodles—the same ones you can try inside the market if you order mi quang or cao lau.
If you enter the food court from the back, where it meets the outdoor wet (produce) market, then you’ll have to pass through another building to get there. Vegetarians, be warned because this building houses the meat market. Here, vendors chop away at hunks of pork, chicken, and beef throughout the day, selling them to food stalls, chefs, and cooking class groups that pass through regularly.
When to Visit the Food Court
The food court is open every day from 6 am to 7 pm. This is good news if you’re an early riser, as you can grab a quick, traditional breakfast here. (Just note that menus stay the same throughout the day and don’t feature western fares like bacon and eggs.)
There is near constant hustle and bustle in the food court, which takes up the entire interior of the main yellow building, but it definitely ebbs and flows throughout the day.
Mealtimes in the Food Court
You’ll see a lot of people, including Hoi An locals, getting a bit of breakfast in the morning at the Central Market. The busiest time, though, is definitely lunch, which is also when you’ll encounter the most tourists. By mid-afternoon, the market usually empties out. Vendors, though, are still in full force at this time (and will definitely take notice of you as a potential diner if you walk through the food court!)
Looking for a more relaxed experience? We recommend going in the evening a half hour before closing time. Some vendors may already be gone by then, but the ones who remain are usually winding down for the day and not too focused on visitors. This means that you can stroll around for a bit without feeling pressured to make your dining choice.
The Food Court – What to Expect
Regardless of when you go, it’s helpful to understand the layout of the food court to make the most of your time there. From the front of the main building, you can enter the court through any of three large, open doors. Each leads to an aisle of vendors selling food and drinks from individual stalls. There are 24 stalls in total, running down four long aisles of six stalls each. All of them have a wraparound bar and small plastic chairs where diners sit while eating.
What’s on Offer at the Food Court?
Most of the court’s vendors serve a variety of local and national dishes. You can find the mouthwatering ingredients they use to make them displayed in the front of their stalls, behind a glass partition. As soon as you walk in, vendors take notice. They’ll eagerly approach you with an English language menu of what they offer. Typically, these menus start with a list of the specialities of Hoi An, like cao lau, mi quang, and white rose dumplings—and for good reason. You’ll want to try at least one of these if you go to the food court. That’s what the vendors here do best! Prices are fairly standard across the stalls. Expect to pay no more than 30,000 VND (1.30 USD) for a bowl of cao lau.
While most food vendors have a limited menu of tea, water, and soda. A handful of stalls specialise in making juices, smoothies, and coffee beverages. Prices starting as low as 15,000 VND (.65 USD). From these stalls, you can order nearly any fruit (or fruit combination) in a smoothie or juice—avocado, mango, coconut, and dragonfruit are all popular options. If you’re adventurous, then try mixing coffee with fruit. A novel, refreshing spin on your afternoon caffeine boost.
Best of all, you don’t even have to visit two stalls to get a tasty dish and beverage. As you sit down to order your meal, a vendor will come over and hand-deliver their drink menu to you. Place your order and voila, a delicious mango smoothie will appear right beside your steaming bowl of cao lau noodles. You usually pay for your entire order on one bill, though sometimes drink vendors may request payment separately.
Navigating the Food Court
When you first step into the food court, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the attention. Often taking the first menu offered to you by a smiling server. But to get the best experience (and dishes), it pays to take your time and consider your options.
Most first-timers to Hoi An will walk through the Central Market’s central door and smack into the main aisle. This means that the vendors toward the front of the aisle have the best access to tourist traffic. Consequently, an easier time getting diners. Smile politely and continue down the aisle to get a look around before agreeing to dine at a stall.
Hidden Hint: Enter through the left or right door at the front of the market food court or from a side door. This will give you access to stalls along the periphery that you might otherwise miss.
Choosing a Food Stall
It’s easy to choose a stall based on its savoury display. This will often include mounds of spring rolls, pork legs, fresh fruit, and greens. But don’t forget to look in the back of the stall too. Here, you can see signs of freshly-prepared dishes, such as boiling pots and greased sauté pans. (That being said, some vendors may outsource a dish or two to a neighbouring stall if they are too busy!)
Sometimes, you might find a few stalls empty, depending on when you go. Generally speaking, the closer to closing time, the fewer you’ll see. You may even return to find your favourite vendor from yesterday isn’t there. (Stalls don’t post regular hours—and chefs need their holidays, too!).
Hidden Hint: Look around at who else is eating. If you see a lot of Vietnamese people at a stall, then it’s a sign that you’ve found a solid vendor.
Some of the Best Vendors at the Food Court
You also won’t find too many Central Market vendors featured on Hoi An review sites like TripAdvisor. Hidden recommends Ms. Ha and Be Na. You’ll find the friendly Ms. Ha in the last stall on the left of the court’s middle aisle. She serves up generous portions of cao lau, mi quang, and even a delicious tofu version of both dishes for vegetarians. It’s worth visiting her stall for the food and unwavering hospitality. If you only have one chance to visit the food court, then you can’t go wrong at Be Na. Walk down the main aisle and you’ll find it four stalls down on your left. The lady there does a brisk cao lau business throughout the day (and boasts of her positive reviews just behind her stand).
Just outside the market, you can find delicious versions of banh trang nuong, or large, flat rice crackers topped with green onion and spices. Often called “Vietnamese pizza,” they’re heated up over a grill, topped with mayo and chilli sauce, and then folded and served. For just 20,000 VND (.87 USD), they are perfect for a pre-market or post-drink bite.
Hidden Hint: You can get one of Hoi An’s most famous banh mi just outside the food court at the original Banh Mi Phuong stand. A simple glass stall to the right of the market, it’s open from 7 am to 7 pm every day.
If you fancy something a bit different, then enter the food court from the front. Visit the first stall furthest to the right. Here, you can try a delicious version of bun bo hue, a popular spicy dish containing rice vermicelli (bun) and beef (bo).
Even if you’ve got only a short time to spend in Hoi An, don’t miss the central market—eating at the food court is the perfect reason to go. For only a couple of dollars, you can get a classic example of some of Hoi An’s traditional dishes, plus a real Vietnamese market experience.
The market is a great place to revisit, too, so that you can try different vendors and dishes. It’s also worth taking your time when you go to the market, to check out the various stalls and take in the whole experience—from groups of tourists snapping selfies to locals getting in a quick midday bite, it’s quite an atmosphere!
If you’ve got some extra time and want a more leisurely dining experience at a place that specialises in a local dish, then check out these restaurants for Hidden’s recommendations of the best banh mi, cao lau, and com ga in Hoi An. Also, make the market and its food court part of your Hoi An culinary experience.