But it’s not the food that initially puts Hoi An on the map: This picture-perfect city in central Vietnam needs no introduction. With crumbling colonial buildings, flowers growing over the pale yellow stone, and colorful lanterns illuminating every corner, it’s truly like stepping back in time.
Yet the food is a delectable bonus. With plenty of Hoi An street food, restaurants and food markets in Hoi An, there’s something for everyone. Let’s dig in, shall we?
To say Hoi An cuisine is unique is an understatement. Vietnam’s rocky history and countless invaders have shaped both the culture and cuisine. While the north of Vietnam is known for bánh mì and other foods brought by French colonialists, the south of the country is more westernized as a result of American occupation during the Vietnam War.
So how about the food of Hoi An? Having been an important port of trade during the Chinese rule, the cuisine developed an oriental influence. Today, you’ll dine on wontons and noodle dishes that wouldn’t be out of place in Beijing or Shanghai. If these don’t sound like your cup of tea, there are plenty of typical Vietnamese dishes to try, too.
If you don’t know where to start, don’t worry! Here’s a list of some of our favorite places:
1. Morning Glory: This Hoi An food guide would be incomplete without mentioning Morning Glory, one of the best-loved Hoi An Ancient Town restaurants. It even made it to our Top 10 Things to Do, See and Eat in Central Vietnam!
The crumbling yellow exterior of this restaurant is so Hoi An it hurts, and the menu is just as authentic. Tuck into local favorites like cao lau noodles, fresh spring rolls and banh xeo pancakes. It’s not exclusively a vegetarian restaurant in Hoi An, but there are plenty of options for meat-free travelers.
2. Brother’s Cafe: Set by the river, Brother’s Cafe is without a doubt one of the best restaurants in Hoi An’s Ancient Town. The prices are a little inflated, but once you’re sipping a delicious cocktail at sunset with a view of the famous floating lanterns of Hoi An, you’ll be glad you splashed out. The food is typically Vietnamese with a quirky twist; why not try wontons with crab meat, pho with papaya pickle or spicy seafood salad? Brothers also serves some of the best dessert in Hoi An, so be sure to save some space!
3. Baby Mustard: Hidden away in Tra Que Vegetable Village, this charming local restaurant is a peaceful place to forget the teeming scooters of the city center and watch as locals tend to the rolling rice fields. The affordable food is lovingly prepared by a local husband and wife who have been cooking Vietnamese food their whole lives. The best dish to try is their banh xeo, crispy pancakes served with fresh ingredients farmed just a few meters away.
4. Bánh Mì Phượng: If you followed the adventures of Anthony Bourdain in Hoi An, you may already know about Bánh Mì Phượng, the legendary sandwich shop in the heart of town. Sure, you may have to wait 30 minutes for a crusty banh mi baguette packed with fresh, flavorsome ingredients, but it’s going to be 100% worth it. Grab one as a late-night snack in Hoi An after a couple of drinks.
5. Reaching Out Teahouse Hoi An: You can’t leave Hoi An (or Vietnam for that matter!) without tasting some Vietnamese coffee and/or tea. Reaching Out Teahouse offers coffee and tea tasting sets, with a variety of different flavored coffee or teas that come in handmade pots with a few cookies and biscuits on the side.
6. Nostalife Hoi An: This al fresco dining spot in Hoi An, with its colorful graffitied walls and authentic Vietnamese dishes, is a crowd favorite. Situated on the banks of the river, this is the perfect place to go for an early dinner with a view. Whether you order their lemongrass grilled chicken, pork skewers, fried spring rolls or even their coffee, you won’t be disappointed.
7. Kahuna’s Hoi An Beach Club: Delicious food, refreshing cocktails and some fun under the sun is Kahuna’s motto. With beach loungers, paddle boards, life sized board games, a pool, the beach, a bar and more in its arsenal, it’s quite hard to beat!
8. Central Market: If you’re not sure what you fancy, head to this Hoi An food market which serves some of the best street food in Hoi An. From noodles to spring rolls and plenty in between, you won’t leave feeling hungry!
Part of eating well abroad is knowing which dishes to look out for. Many of the best foods in Hoi An are native to the city and won’t even be found in Hanoi or Saigon. So don’t leave without sampling…
1. Cao lầu noodles: Cao lầu noodles are the most famous dish from Hoi An. Despite the fact that hundreds of bowls are served each day on the streets of Hoi An, the recipe is a closely guarded secret. Even the restaurant owners don’t know the exact ingredients of the noodles that they collect fresh from the market each morning. Rumor has it they’re made with water from a particular well that only one local woman knows the location of.
Cao lầu noodles are topped with barbecue pork, crispy crackling and fresh herbs and spices. They’re rich, moreish and served for as little as 30,000 VND (US$1.50). Whatever time of day you crave cao lầu, you’ll likely find someone serving them. They’re a 24-hour food in Hoi An for both locals and tourists.
2. Mi quang: A second delicious noodle dish to try in Hoi An is mi quang. These noodles are softer than cao lầu and served with a different set of ingredients. Prawns, pork and soft boiled quail’s eggs are mixed with tomatoes, peanuts, beansprouts and a squirt of lime. Despite the plentiful ingredients, you’ll rarely pay more than US$2 for a steaming bowl of tasty mi quang noodles.
3. Banh xeo: Translating as ‘sizzling pancake’, this tasty Hoi An dish is popular with locals and tourists alike. Crispy batter is folded over and stuffed with prawns, pork, beansprouts, and salad. Alternatively, you can request them without pork and prawns, making them a tasty vegetarian food in Hoi An. Many venues will use tofu instead.
The best part about banh xeo is how they’re eaten. To dine like a local, roll up a chunk of pancake in a sheet of rice paper and dunk into a tangy sauce flavored with orange. The zingy citrus is delicious with the smoky pork.
4. Com ga: Otherwise known as Hoi An chicken rice, this simple dish needs no frills. It’s a cheap eat in Hoi An that will keep you full all day. Succulent white chicken meat is layered over fragrant yellow rice and served with chili, lime and all the usual Vietnamese herbs. For a quick and tasty lunch, it’s a must-eat in Hoi An!
5. Banh bao banh vac: Like cao lau, the banh bao banh vac (known as the white rose dumplings because of their resemblance to the flower) is also said to be a highly guarded recipe. Unique to Hoi An, this tasty flavor explosion has a translucent white wrapper filled with minced shrimp and pork and topped with fried shallots. Don’t forget to dunk it in the dipping sauce!
Of course! Being a city with such a cultural history when it comes to food, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are many food tours that take you around the city to try some local delicacies. We highly recommend this Essential Hoi An Food Tour with a local guide who’ll take you on an afternoon food tasting, sampling dishes like cao lau noodles, banh mi, banh xeo, BBQ pork and the famous Vietnamese coffee.
Hungry yet? We know we are! Let us know in the comments if this blog has given you food for thought!
Featured image: @salmonphan