vietnam street

Cao Lầu, Hoi An, Vietnam

This is cao lầu, the best bowl of noodles I’ve eaten in Vietnam. (Sorry, pho!)

Cao lầu is a super-localized dish that you can only enjoy in the historic town of Hoi An. According to local legend, the rice noodles used in the dish must be made with water from a secret well, and mixed with ash from wood collected from the nearly Cham Islands. Other than that, ingredients and toppings change from chef to chef and restaurant to restaurant, but the dish usually contains some kind of pork and herbs.

We’d tried a few versions around town and were unimpressed, to be honest, until we were walking back to our hotel one night and stumbled upon this set up…

A lone man under a tent in an alley preparing noodles dishes…

His kitchen…

A closer look at the ingredients…

The dining room…

We ordered and he got to work, cooking the noodles, adding the soup and methodically constructing the dish…

In less than two minutes, this beauty bowl arrived at our table…

His version of cao lầu, as seen here, featured two kinds of roast pork, the belly and the loin, and came topped with fried pork lard for crunch. There was also a layer of herbs under all those pork parts, which you mixed all together by yourself…

As you can see above, the noodles are quite thick, similar to udon in texture, but with a very distinct taste.

No soup. Just a few secret sauces and a touch of vinegar.

You added chilli sauce, homemade of course, on your own as well.

I still can’t get over how good this cao lầu was!! Every ingredient came together to form a perfect formula of flavor.

All through our “dinner”, we were watched over by this young fella, the chef’s grandson, who kept eyeing me like I was going to steal one of his ribs…

There’s no address I can give you here, however, I was told this tent goes up nightly as long as the weather’s good. To find this killer cao lầu in Hoi An, look for this address in Old Town and you should spot this streetside chef making magic in the alley after sunset…

Here’s one more look for good measure…

Banh Khot, Ho Chi Minh City

Banh khot is a Vietnamese dish I’d never seen or heard of before arriving in Ho Chi Minh City. Not on any menu I’ve come across in my travels before. Turns out it’s a quite popular snack in the country where it was created though. We stumbled upon banh khot by chance as we were leaving Ben Thanh Market, just outside of this shop…

The store was closed, but its entrance was where these women had set up shop…

Banh khot are Vietnamese mini pancakes… savory, not sweet… made from rice flour, corn starch, tumeric powder, coconut milk and scallion, cooked in what looks like a takoyaki pan, or “aebleskiver” as it’s known in Europe…

The woman in pink ladeled in the batter and grilled the “pancakes”…

The woman in black made the toppings, either fried shrimp or minced pork with vegetables…

For about $2.75 US, you’re delivered a tray of 12 banh knot with lettuce, fresh herbs and dipping sauce…

You then use the lettuce as your base and make your own pancake wraps, like so…

I enjoyed a few as wraps but actually preferred eating the small, savory pancakes as is, with just a touch of the vinegar and chilli sauce along with some mint, to be honest.

Yet another common Vietnamese cuisine I wish we had back home.

Oh, and if you do go to Ben Thanh Market to look for these banh khot, go early in the day. These ladies set up here around noon and sell out by around 4pm every day!