Hoi An Specialities: The Best Local Vietnamese Food

Hoi An has become increasingly known overseas for its food—the street food, the laneways and alleys packed with restaurants and eateries, the markets and food halls, the fresh seafood, and a whole range of unique local dishes. 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.

street food stall: Hoi An Specialities
A street food stall in Hoi An is lit up with red neon signs. Photo: Agnuush Monstar

Hoi An Street Food:

Hoi An is a street food town—even the dishes served in the restaurants began their days as street food. Cao Lau, Mi Quang, Com Ga are all working people’s meals, designed to be wolfed down on your break; satisfying, healthy, and quick.

The 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. As you walk around, keep an eye out for the places the locals flock to for meals. 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.

Hoi An specialities: dishes
Chopsticks dive into a shared meal of Hoi An speciality dishes. Photo: Agnuush Monstar

The best local speciality restaurants in Hoi An

So, let’s talk about some Hoi An specialities. We will 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 sold since there are just too many people selling great food in this town, and every local, blogger and ex-pat has their own opinion on which is the all-time greatest. However, after extensive research, and full stomachs, what we can do is tell you where to find a very good example of each dish, for a reasonable price.

Bánh Mì

Pronounced “Barn Mee.” Banh Mi is merely an iconic baguette dish filled with a variety of ingredients, and it is 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 been recommended by the late Anthony Bourdain himself 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 article on the best banh mi in Hoi An.

Bahn Mi Phuong: Hoi An specialities
The team at Bahn Mi Phuong create Vietnamese sandwiches for the long line of customers. Photo: Agnuush Monstar

Mì Quảng

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. This dish is topped with sliced banana flower, bean shoots, and herbs, like Phi, but also has crushed peanuts and toasted sesame rice crackers, which add a satisfying crunchy layer of textures to the slippery noodles, brothy sauce, and leafy herbs. You can 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, the light turmeric flavour, the rich broth, and bright colour make for an excellent version of the dish. Prepare 50,000 VND (2 USD) for a serving. Address: 6A, Truong Minh Luong

Mi Quang: Hoi An specialities
A typical bowl of Mi Quang found in Hoi An. Photo: Agnuush Monstar

Cao lầu

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 that grow on Cu Lao Cham Island and special water from the Gieng Bá Le (or Ba Le Well) are mixed to make a lye solution which is 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.

Please try it

Construction of the dish is as follows: First, the firm, slippery noodles are in a flavoursome brothy sauce. On top of the noodles, you will find crunchy fried squares of noodle and tender sliced pork, with leafy greens and herbs. On the side will be 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, but 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 this, please read Hidden’s article on Hoi An’s best Cao lau Restaurants 

Cau Lau: Hoi An specialities
Cau Lau is a dish native to Hoi An and should be tried at least once during a visit. Photo: Agnuush Monstar

Cơm Gà

This is 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, and in Vietnam, Com Ga stalls line every street in every city. But the Hoi An dish is different from all of them.

Its version has gizzard and livers, shredded chicken meat, herbs and onions, 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. 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

Com Ga: Hoi An specialities
Com ga, Hoi An chicken rice can be found in all corners of the town. Photo: Agnuush Monstar

Bánh Bao Bánh Vac (White rose dumpling)

The white rose dumpling is a Hoi An tradition, dating back three generations to a secret recipe written in colonial times. The wrappers, bunched up when served to resemble the petals of a white rose, are made from a variety of rice brought up from the Mekong Delta, ground finely, and mixed with the 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 have been made using the alkali technique for centuries.

These particular dumpling wrappers 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).

White Rose Dumpling: Hoi An specialities
Banh Bao Banh Vac (White rose dumpling) made to a secret recipe at The White Rose Restaurant in Hoi An. Photo: Travis Hodges

Bánh bột lọc

Pronounced as “Barn bot look,” these little shrimp and pork dumplings have a tough, stretchy texture, somewhat like a flattened gummy bear, and can be quite difficult to separate from each other 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. They are often served with a sweet but fiery chilli jam, and Nuoc cham (a spicy garlic infused fish sauce) to drizzle over the top. You can find some great examples for around 30,000 VND (1.30 USD) per serving in the food centre in Hoi An Market.

Banh Bot Loc: Hoi An specialities
Banh Bot loc are a Hoi An speciality food found in restaurants and market stalls all over town. Photo: Travis Hodges

Hoành thánh chiên

Pronounced “Horn Than Shienne,” these little fried wontons are a Hoi An speciality. Minced pork and ground shrimp are pounded together with onions, wrapped in thin rice flour skins in a kind of ravioli shape, and fried at high temperature until golden. This will generally be served with a chilli, vinegar, and soy dipping sauce.

Anh Dung (Hoanh Thanh Anh Dung)

It’s a little mom & pop wonton diner where you can see them making the Hoanh thanh chien fresh to order. Cosy little place, and lovely owners. Budget about 60,000 VND (2.60 USD). Address: 14 Ba Trieu

Hoanh Thanh Chien: Hoi An specialities
Hoi An specialty fried wantons with pork and shrimp. Photo: Travis Hodges

Hến Trộn Hoi An & Bánh đập

“Hến Trộn” is pronounced “Hen Chun,” whilst “Banh Dap” is “Barn Dap.” These are two separate dishes, but they are mostly side-by-side on the menu and 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.

It is light and has a subtle, beautiful shellfish flavour, tossed with herbs and greens, and sometimes excitingly tart and zingy slices of star fruit, it is then topped with crushed peanuts. It is light yet satisfying, as the flavour of the clams is delicate but peppered with occasional bursts of star fruit, herb, and peanut. This is 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, and alongside it is a fermented shrimp sauce (called mắm tôm, which is 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 dishes, and there are also several scattered around town. The best one we tried was Quan Ben Tre where dishes cost 50,000 VND (2 USD).

Hen Tron Hoi An
A plate of Hen Tron, minced clams, found in Hoi An. Photo: Agnuush

Seafood

Hoi An is a seafood town. There are seafood dishes everywhere, 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, and the quality of the produce definitely dips after two or three hours in the sun.  

Fresh fish: Hoi An specialities
Fresh fish for sale in the Hoi An Market. Photo: Antonia Lira

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. The prices are good, and 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,” this Hoi An street food is 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.

Sweet Che: Hoi An specialities
Sesame seeds top a bowl of sweet che in Hoi An. Photo: Travis Hodges

There Are Many Types Of Food:

There are many different versions, and some little restaurants that specialise in serving these refreshing sweet treats. They are made from banana oil, sweetened coconut water or bean milk (the royal version, served in the palace at the one-time capital, Hue, was made from lotus seed). They can also contain tapioca pearls, assorted fruit agar-agar jellies, sticky rice, other colourful garnishes, and are finished with a pile of shaved ice to keep you cool.

Chè Bap: Sweet corn (not the big, yellow kernels we use at home. This corn is small, white, circular, and creamy)

Chè trôi nước: Sticky rice cake and green pea paste

Chè khoai môn: Taro  (A starchy root somewhat like potato)

Chè đậu xanh: 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)

Chè đào: Red bean (The same red beans that you will find stuffed into sweet buns and desserts throughout Vietnam and China)

Chè bột lọc: Cassava (The starchy, slightly stringy root from which tapioca is made.)

Chè hạt sen: Lotus seed – The food of kings

Chè dảo ngữ:  Broad bean

Chè thái bà liên: Has a whole bunch of fruit flavoured agar-agar jellies inside

Along with mobile street carts that can be found dotted around town, che can also be found in abundance at Hoi An Night Market and at Che Thung.

Che sweet soup: Hoi An specialities
A street vendor in Hoi An serves Che sweet soup. Photo: Travis Hodges

Mango Cake

This is not a cake, and it does not contain mango. The name comes from the fact that it is shaped like a mango, and has nothing to do with either its flavour or contents. That being said, it is a delicious snack, and a nice little sweet treat to pick up 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 out 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.

Mango Cake: Hoi An specialities
Mango cake in Hoi An. Mango cakes do not contain any mango and are not actually a cake! They are delicious, though. Photo: Travis Hodges

Hidden’s Thoughts:

If you’re a food lover, you are going to find it hard to leave Hoi An as it’s bursting with delicious food to tempt your taste buds. Hoi An’s local specialities have stood the test of time, and are now proudly known on the world stage. When you visit the town, be adventurous, come out of your comfort zone, and try some of this 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.

0 COMMENTS