Cao lau: culinary emblem of Hoi An

Update: 01/10/2019
Considered by many to be Vietnam's culinary capital, Hoi An offers a diverse menu of dishes to satisfy any craving.
Cao lau (Cao lầu) noodles. Photo: @vietnomnom
Cao lau (Cao lầu) noodles. Photo: @vietnomnom

“Hoi An is a unique city and the food is unique here, too,” says Trinh Diem Vy, a celebrity chef, food author and the owner of nine restaurants in Hoi An. “You get a bit of Europe and a bit of Asia so everyone finds a bit of themselves here.”

A vibrant trading port from the 15th to 19th century, connecting the East with Europe, Hoi An's townscape -and food - reflects a medley of influences from its past.

It was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.

Though Hoi An might be one of the top destinations for foodies in the country there’s one dish in particular that’s truly emblematic of the ancient Vietnamese town’s rich and diverse history -Cao lau.

Just look at the ingredients: thinly sliced barbecued pork - similar to char siu, its Chinese counterpart, fried croutons - a reminder of its French history, chewy rice noodles that bear a strong resemblance to Japanese udon.

One factor that sets Vy’s Cao lau apart from competitors is the noodles, which are made from scratch using rice and water - but not just any rice and water. “Rice has to be long grain and old enough to make the noodles firm,” says Vy. The water is taken from an ancient well in Hoi An, called Ba Le well. “The minerals from the water provides the right elements for the noodle texture,” says Vy.

Tourists enjoy Cao lau noodles in Hoi An city, Quang Nam province.
Tourists enjoy Cao lau noodles in Hoi An city, Quang Nam province.

The rice is then soaked, ground, mixed with the well water and kneaded into a dough.

It's then thinly sliced and steamed over the fire to give the noodles a unique yellowish hue and springy texture.

Travelers can try - or learn to make - a bowl of handmade Cao lau at Vy’s Market Restaurant & Cooking School.

Getting to Hoi An: The easiest way to get to Hoi An from Hanoi, the gateway to Vietnam, is by plane. The closest airport to Hoi An is in nearby Danang and the Hanoi to Danang flight is just over an hour. A number of airlines make the trip several times a day.