Hoi An Specialities: The Best Local Vietnamese Food
Hoi An has become increasingly known overseas for its stunning array of Vietnamese food. It’s street food and the laneways and alleys of the town, packed with restaurants and eateries. The markets and food halls, fresh seafood, and a wide range of unique Hoi An specialities. From the glitzy fusion spots of the tourist precinct to the cramped, chaotic hawkers and coffee houses, where the locals meet for snacks and late-night drinks. From the roadside vendors touting chicken rice or mango cake to the clusters of miniature red plastic chairs that denote a street vendor selling local food delights. It’s impossible to walk for five minutes in this town without coming across something delicious, new or interesting to eat.
Hoi An Street Food
Hoi An is a street food town full of local specialities. For instance, even the dishes served in the restaurants began their days as street food. Cao Lau, Mi Quang and Com Ga are all working people’s meals. Firstly designed for wolfing down on your break; satisfying, healthy, and quick.
Standards are generally quite high, and although most street vendors or hawkers will only sell one or two dishes, 10 metres down the street there will be another stall selling something different. So as you walk around, keep an eye out for the places the locals flock to for meals. Above all, if you see a place packed with locals, you know it’s serving something great. So pull up a ludicrously tiny red stool, and eat like a local.
Local Speciality Dishes in Hoi An
So, let’s talk about some Hoi An specialities. We discuss local dishes, what they are, and where to find them. We can’t claim to know where the best version of every dish is. There are simply just too many people selling great food in this town. Every local, blogger and ex-pat has their own opinion on which is the all-time greatest. However, after extensive research, and full stomachs, we can tell you where to find a very good example of each dish, for a reasonable price.
Pronounced “Barn Mee.” Banh mi – an iconic baguette dish filled with a variety of ingredients. Made particularly well in Hoi An. The two most famous exponents of the sandwich makers art here are Banh Mi Phuong, and Madam Khanh, the Banh Mi Queen.
It is a topic of hot debate on the internet as to which is the greatest. But having the late Anthony Bourdain himself’s recommendation has seemingly tipped the balance of popular opinion in favour of Phuong’s. We’ve done our taste test at these two well-known establishments as well as some lesser-known local favourites. Check out our findings on the Best Banh Mi in Hoi An.
Pronounced “Mee Kwong,” in other parts of Vietnam, Mi Quang is served as a bowl of soup. But the Hoi An version is more of a saucy noodle dish. Originally from Quang Nam province (in which Hoi An is located), the name means “noodles from Quang.” The addition of turmeric gives the wide rice noodles their characteristic yellow colour. Then served with a broth-based sauce, herbs and various proteins.
These can include prawns (tom), chicken (ga), pork (thịt heo) or combinations (tom thit), steamed pork sausage (cha), or quail eggs. Then topped with sliced banana flower, bean shoots, and herbs, like Phi. However, it also has crushed peanuts and toasted sesame rice crackers. These add a satisfying crunchy layer of textures to the slippery noodles, brothy sauce, and leafy herbs. You then season to your taste with the condiments provided.
Mi Quang Ong Hai
There are infinite choices when it comes to Mi Quang, though one of the consistently highest rated by bloggers and foodies is from Mi Quang Ong Hai. Mr Hai’s little eatery is a short walk from the centre of the Old Town, and well worth the trip. His noodles are perfectly cooked, with a light turmeric flavour, rich broth, and bright colour making for an excellent version of the dish. Prepare 50,000 VND (2 USD) for a serving.
Address: 6A, Truong Minh Luong
One of the most famous local specialities in Hoi An. Pronounced “Cow Low,” this dish is a Hoi An-only affair. Pork, local vegetables, and a rich pork bone broth over the distinctive, chewy noodles make up this street food classic. But, here’s the twist—the reason you won’t find this dish on any other tables in any other town is that the thick, chunky rice meal noodles are cut, hand-shaped, and dried. Then, wood ash from trees grown on Cu Lao Cham Island and special water from the Gieng Bá Le (or Ba Le Well) mixed to make a lye solution then used to soak the noodles.
The minerality and alkalinity of this water transform the cao lau noodles into their characteristic flavour, sallow colour, and extra chewy texture, giving the dish its own distinct identity. In a land full of noodle bowls, this one stands out for its handcrafted ingredients, interesting use of textures, and unique flavours.
How Cao Lau is served
The dish is constructed as follows. Firstly, the firm, slippery noodles are served in a flavoursome brothy sauce. On top of the noodles, are crunchy fried squares of noodle and tender sliced pork, with leafy greens and herbs. On the side is fresh chilli, fish sauce, and a bit of soy so that you can adjust it to your taste.
Cao lau is a must-try dish for any Hoi An visitor. There are so many restaurants and hawkers in town doing their versions of cao lau. Every blogger and every local has their favourite spot. We’ve done our delicious in-depth research on cao lau. So if you want to find great places to eat it read Hidden’s article on Hoi An’s Best Cao Lau Restaurants
Pronounced “Coom ga.” It seems that every community in Southeast Asia, from the Malay peninsula to steamy Borneo, from Singapore to Myanmar and the Philippines, all have their version of chicken rice. Malaysia has Nasi Kandar, Singapore serves Hainanese chicken rice, amongst others. In Vietnam, Com Ga stalls line every street in every city. But this is one of Hoi An’s specialties and is different from them all.
Hoi An’s version has gizzard and livers, shredded chicken meat, herbs and onions. With light, crunchy fried rice, and a chicken and herb broth served on the side. The tang of the iron-enriched offal lightened by the herbs and onions, mixed in with the fried rice, is delicious. It’s not only comfort food, but it’s good for you, too! This version of chicken rice is a Hoi An original and is right up there with the best in the country. To find our best picks read our article on the Best Com Ga in Hoi An
Ba Buoi’s Chicken Rice: This place is busy. Go at off-peak times if you want to get a seat right away. One serving will cost 40,000 VND (1.70 USD). Address: 22, Phan Chu Trinh
Bánh Bao Bánh Vac (White rose dumpling)
The white rose dumpling is a Hoi An tradition. Now famously known as one of Hoi An’s specialities, it dates back three generations to a secret recipe written in colonial times. The wrappers, bunch up when served, resembling the petals of a white rose. Made from a variety of rice brought up from the Mekong Delta, ground finely, and mixed with alkaline water from the Gieng Ba Le well. The addition of alkaline water gives noodles or, in this case, the dumpling wrapper, a slippery feel and chewy texture. Traditional ramen noodles in Japan are made using the century-old alkali technique.
These particular Hoi An specialities have dumpling wrappers which are more like a very, very thin, slightly springy rice noodle than a traditional bready dumpling wrapper. They are filled with minced shrimp and spices, steamed, and laid out nicely on a plate, served sprinkled with fried garlic, crispy shallot, and green onion.
Then, there’s a light, sweet sauce to drizzle over the top. You can buy these dumplings at many places in Hoi An, but apparently, they are all supplied by one single family—Mr Tran Tuan Ngai, the grandson of the original inventor of the secret recipe, along with his spouse and children. One serving at The White Rose Restaurant is priced at 70,000 VND (3 USD).
Bánh bột lọc
Pronounced “Barn bot look”. In Hoi An these little shrimp and pork dumpling specialities have a tough, stretchy texture, somewhat like a flattened gummy bear. Separating them from each other is tricky without putting down your chopsticks, rolling up your sleeves, and really getting involved.
When you finally do manage to pick one up from the clump, they are really lovely to eat. Often served with a sweet but fiery chilli jam, and Nuoc Cham (spicy garlic-infused fish sauce) drizzled over the top. You can find some great examples of these specialties for around 30,000 VND (1.30 USD) per serving in the food centre in Hoi An Market.
Hoành thánh chiên – Fried Wontons
Pronounced “Horn Than Shienne,” fried wontons, another of Hoi An’s great little specialties. Minced pork and ground shrimp pounded together with onions, wrapped in thin rice flour skins in a kind of ravioli shape, and fried at a high temperature until golden. Generally served with chilli, vinegar, and soy dipping sauce.
Anh Dung (Hoanh Thanh Anh Dung)
It’s a little mom and pop wonton diner where you can see them making the Hoanh thanh chien fresh to order. A cosy little place, and lovely owners. Budget about 60,000 VND (2.60 USD). Address: 14 Ba Trieu
Hến Trộn Hoi An & Bánh đập
“Hến Trộn” pronounced “Hen Chun,” whilst “Banh Dap” is “Barn Dap.” These are two separate dishes, but they are mostly side-by-side on the menu. They work very nicely being side-by-side on your table, too. Hen tron, or minced baby clam salad, is a traditional food from Cam Nam island, which is located just across the bridge from the Old Town.
Light and with a subtle, beautiful shellfish flavour, tossed with herbs and greens, and sometimes excitingly tart and zingy slices of star fruit. Then topped with crushed peanuts. Light yet satisfying, due to the delicate flavour of the clams but peppered with occasional bursts of star fruit, herb, and peanut. Best paired with the banh dap (or “smashing rice paper”).
Picture two incredibly light rice pappadums, with a silky soft layer of rice noodle between. Served alongside a fermented shrimp sauce (called mắm tôm – really strong and pungent; not for everyone), a chilli sauce, and a sweet fish sauce. You eat it by smashing and tearing a piece off, folding, then dipping.
Along the far side of Cam Nam Island is a whole row of restaurants selling these Hoi An specialities. There are also several scattered around town. The best one we tried was Quan Ben Tre where dishes cost 50,000 VND (2 USD).
Hoi An is a seafood town with many specialities here having seafood as the main component. Both in local styles and fusion, most at fairly reasonable prices. Many of the restaurants around An Bang Beach have a strong seafood presence, as well as other types of food. Clams, flying fish, fish steamed in banana leaves, scallops, and a number of tuna dishes are prominent on An Bang restaurant menus.
Back in the main area of Hoi An, pretty much every single restaurant will have some prawn and fish dishes scattered across their menus, and seafood-based dumplings galore. But, our advice to the seafood fanatic would be this—get down to the market, right down by the river, nice and early.
Pick up some fresh clams, prawns, and fish, so fresh that they’re still alive and wriggling. Grab some herbs, noodles, and garlic from the fresh food section of the market on your way out, and cook it yourself. Check out our article on Hoi An markets for more detailed information.
Hidden Hint: Before 7 a.m. is the best time to shop, as there are no refrigerated storage facilities at the market. The quality of the produce definitely dips after two or three hours in the sun.
Our pick for one of the best places for seafood would be A Roi Seafood Restaurant. It has a lovely array of local seafood dishes, clams, fish, prawns, and scallops. Firstly the prices are good, and secondly the dishes well-executed. Located on Cua Dai, dishes cost around 60,000 to 100,000 VND (2.60 to 4.30 USD).
Sweet soup – Chè
Pronounced “tcheh,” Mostly found in street carts and little hawker stalls. Despite the moniker “soup,” it is actually more like a Vietnamese Slurpee than soup as you know it. If you walk the streets of Hoang Dieu, Bach Dang, Phan Cu Trinh, and Nguyen Chi Thanh, you will undoubtedly stumble across several sweet soup street vendors.
Originally, sweet soup was an energy snack for farmers to scoff when they took a rest from their back-breaking labours in the blazing midday heat, an icy, sugary treat to help them power through the rest of the day. Now, however, it has evolved into a sweet, one-handed, chilled dessert-style snack to serve to the swarming hordes of tourists on the streets of the Old Town.
The Many Types of Che:
There are many different versions and some little restaurants that specialise in serving these refreshing Hoi An specialities. Essentially sweet treats made from banana oil, sweetened coconut water or bean milk. (The royal version made from lotus seed, was served in the palace at the one-time capital, Hue). Sometimes they contain tapioca pearls, assorted fruit agar-agar jellies, sticky rice, and other colourful garnishes. Then finished with a pile of shaved ice to keep you cool.
Chè Bap uses sweet corn (not the big, yellow kernels we use at home. This corn is small, white, circular, and creamy). Chè trôi nước is Sticky rice cake and green pea paste. Taro (A starchy root somewhat like potato) is used to make Chè khoai môn
Chè đậu xanh is made with green bean. (Not the long, crunchy string beans you would get in Europe or America. They are a dried bean similar to the black bean, but obviously, green in colour) Red bean (The same red beans found stuffed into sweet buns and desserts throughout Vietnam and China) used for Chè đào.
Chè bột lọc uses cassava (The starchy, slightly stringy root from which tapioca is made.) Lotus seed – The food of kings used to make Chè hạt sen. Chè dảo ngữ is made with broad beans. Chè thái bà liên has a whole bunch of fruit flavoured agar-agar jellies inside
Along with mobile street carts found dotted around town, che is also found in abundance at the Hoi An Night Market and at Che Thung.
However, this is not a cake, and it does not contain mango. Because the name actually comes from its shape being like a mango. So, nothing to do with either its flavour or contents. But that being said, it’s a delicious snack. One of the nice little Hoi An specialities to pick up as a sweet treat from the street vendors as you stroll about the Old Town.
But, do not be disappointed when you bite into the stretchy little dumpling, and find that it is stuffed with crushed peanuts and granulated sugar. The white stuff on the outside that looks like powdered sugar… is actually not. It’s just a light dusting of rice flour to stop the dumplings from sticking to each other and it happens to look exactly like confectioner’s sugar.
So, despite the fact that the mango cake is made up of lies upon of lies, they’re great. Pick one up from dozens of street vendors around the Old Town or the An Hoi night market. Prices will be 3,000 to 10,000 VND (0.13c to 0.40c USD) depending on your bargaining skills.
In conclusion, if you’re a food lover, you are going to find it hard to leave Hoi An. Because it’s bursting with delicious food to tempt your taste buds. Hoi An’s local specialities have stood the test of time – now proudly known on the world stage. During your visit, be adventurous, coming out of your comfort zone. Try some famed local food from a variety of locations, local vendors, restaurants, and food markets. Eat till your heart’s content, feasting on Hoi An’s specialities like a local.
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