Besides being Vietnam’s most charming town, Hoi An is a foodie’s paradise. If you want to be sure not to miss the absolute best Hoi An food, start with this post.
By the time I took a Hoi An street food tour, I had been in Vietnam for almost three months and in Hoi An for a week. As a foodie traveller, I was convinced that I’d already tried the best food in Hoi An. How wrong I was!
Taking me on a food tour in Hoi An, Kam from Hoi An Food Tour introduced me to a tasty list of food I never would have found without her help.
She also shared the myths and legends of Hoi An food, so that I could take a big bite out of Vietnamese culture while stuffing my face with delicious Vietnamese food.
I highly recommend you take a food tour on your first day in the city, so you know the best places to eat for the rest of your stay.
In the meantime, find out where to eat in Hoi An in our…
Tour of the Absolute Best Hoi An Food
Banh Kep Stall
Hai Ba Trung
We started the tour with a decidedly non-traditional Hoi An food: Vietnamese pizza (Banh Kep). It is loosely related to Italian pizza and, like its European cousin, is a popular snack for school kids and teenagers.
Banh Kep consists of a circular rice cracker which is carefully toasted over an open coal fire until crispy. “Pizza” toppings, like pork pate or quail eggs, are added and the whole concoction is roasted over the fire again.
As we waited for our pizza, my guide Kam filled me in on the fine balance that signifies top-notch Vietnamese cooking. The food should include a balanced mix of the five elements, which represent five flavours:
- Spicy is fire.
- Salty is water.
- Sweet is earth.
- Sour is wood.
- Bitter is metal.
The best dishes also include five colors (green, red, yellow, white and black) and appeal to the five senses.
Even this simple snack of Banh Kep, when topped with red hot sauce, fulfills the five requirements in each category. Though I was a little squeamish eating the golden yolk of the tiny quail eggs (I’m usually vegan!), the crunch of the rice cracker combined with the creamy eggs and the zingy hot sauce did make a satisfying (and nutritious) snack.
(Related: Let Wanderlust Storytellers help you choose your Vietnam accommodation) →
Famous White Rose Hoi An
Tran Tuan Ngai, 533 Hai Ba Trung Street
The restaurant on Tran Tuan Ngai is the home of the original White Rose, which was invented 100 years ago by the owner’s grandfather. Every morning, Mr. Ngai makes a batch of dough from the secret recipe that has been handed down from father to son. Legend has it that he is the only person who knows the recipe and can make the dough.
Once the dough is ready, it is shaped into delicate circles and filled with dab of shrimp or vegetarian filling by a team of women who work in the front of Mr. Ngai’s restaurant. The women make around 5,000 dumplings per day. These are distributed to restaurants throughout the city. Though the work is painstaking, the women are relatively well-paid and it is a good job compared to others that might be available to them.
Truly a homegrown Hoi An food, you won’t find White Rose in any other city in Vietnam.
I’d had White Rose elsewhere in Hoi An, but it didn’t come close to the delicately flavoured dumplings at Tran Tuan Ngai. Many restaurants serve their own version of White Rose, which can be spotted by its thicker, less transparent dough.
The best restaurants in Hoi An get their White Rose delivered from Tran Tuan Ngai. After transporting and reheating the White Rose, the texture is all wrong.
It’s well worth seeking this special dish out at its point of origin.
Vegetarians note that white rose can be made with pork or a vegetarian filling. However, half of the flavour comes from the secret-recipe dipping sauce (which very likely contains shrimp paste or fish sauce).
Legendary Black Sesame Pudding (Xi Ma)
Ly Thuong Kiet
We were the first ones to arrive at a humble — one woman and her large cooking pot — Black Sesame stall on the sidewalk of the busy Ly Thuong Kiet. We pulled up the tiniest plastic stools I’ve seen yet and were handed two small bowls of jet-black sesame pudding.
This was my first experience of Xi Ma, a thick creamy porridge of black sesame, Chinese herbs and sugar. This Hoi An street food is popular with locals because it’s said to be good for digestion.
Kam had timed our arrival perfectly. Within five minutes all of the stools were full of local people anxious to get their treat.
As with White Rose, the myth is just as important as the food itself.
According to Kam, the recipe for this black sesame pudding is another carefully held secret. The only person who can make it right is the vendor’s 99-year-old father who still cooks the pudding almost every morning. People flock to this stall not only because its the best black sesame in Hoi An, but also they know that their time to eat it is limited. When the father dies, the magic of the recipe will die with him.
Hearing this, I felt perfectly justified in ordering a second bowl.
Best Banh Mi in the World
Banh Mi Phuong, 2B Phan Chau Trinh
No Vietnamese food tour would be complete without sampling a Banh Mi sandwich; no Hoi An food tour skips Banh Mi Phuong, one of the most popular Hoi An restaurants. After all, according to Anthony Bourdain, this is the best Banh Mi in the world (though I’m pretty sure he hasn’t tasted them all).
After a visit from Bourdain, Banh Mi Phuong skyrocketed to international fame.
Now, it is busy from early morning until late evening and people from all over the world line up to get their Banh Mi on. Before 8am, you’ll line up with locals getting breakfast and later on you’ll share limited table space with bus tourists, backpackers and everyone in between.
For non-veggies, the classic Banh Mi filling is a pork pate; for veggies, there is tofu cooked in thick, sweet soy-based sauce. The magical hot sauce is the mythic ingredient at Banh Mi Phuong. It is a long-kept secret… do I need to say more?
For me, the bread is what really makes or breaks a Banh Mi. Banh Mi Phuong’s bread is a perfect balance of fluffy, chewy and crunchy. Made in the bakery next door from a special combination of wheat flour and sweet potato flour, it couldn’t be fresher!
So, is this the best veggie Banh Mi in the world? All I can say for sure is that it’s the best one I’ve had so far.
(Related: Check the Hoi An climate so you can plan your trip without weather worries) →
The Square Noodle with a Well-Rounded Heritage
Food court in the Hoi An market
Our next stop is a small stall at the back of the food court in the Hoi An central market.
The central market is one of the best places to eat in Hoi An, but, while wandering through the other day, I couldn’t spot anything remotely vegetarian to eat. I’m thrilled to have a guide to help me along! Kam took me to Ms. Ha’s stall (in the last row farthest to the left if you enter the market from Tran Phu street).
There, I finally got a chance to try Hoi An’s most famous dish, Cau Lau. It is a square noodle, about the thickness of Japanese Udon, made by slicing flat rectangles of dough. Ash is added to the dough to give the noodles an extra chewy texture and to make them keep longer than ordinary rice noodles.
Just like every food in Hoi An, Cau Lau is made from a secret recipe. All of the Cau Lau in the city is said to originate from a single noodle-maker who uses only the water from the ancient Ba Le Well and only the ash from a particular tree grown nearby. This story is utter rubbish, of course, but the food is only as tasty as the mystery behind it.
Ms Ha’s vegetarian Cau Lau is served with crunchy fried bread and fresh greens, all doused in a tasty, salty broth. Though the combo was tasty, Cau Lau noodles are far too dense and chewy for me.
To get a second opinion, read this in-depth article about the famous Hoi An Cau Lau noodles and where to eat them.
Home-Cooked Vegetarian Food in Hoi An
For our final stop of the night, Kam led me down one of the winding alleyways just north of Hoi An’s Ancient Town. As the rain starts to spit down as we entered the open front of the family home of Mrs No. We sat at a table in Mrs No’s tiled living room, where one wall is adorned with extra large wedding portraits of her two daughters and the other wall is completely devoted to a Buddhist temple.
I snack on the small plates of fried spring rolls and banh khot — tiny deep fried rounds of rice dough traditionally filled with a single shrimp.
Mrs No tells me that ever since her daughters got married, their home is too quiet and lonely so she welcomes food tour guests to fill the house with people and conversation. I feel a little inadequate for the task, exhausted as I am and stuffed full of food, but I do my best.
Don’t Forget Your Free Printable Guide to Vietnam Vegan Food
The guide includes interactive and printable maps to Hanoi, Hoi An, Hue, and Ho Chi Minh City. Super handy when you’re hungry in Vietnam!
Do you have recommendations of what to eat in Hoi An? Share your tips for eating in Hoi An in the comments!
I was a guest of Hoi An Food Tour for this tour of the best places to eat in Hoi An. All opinions about the yumminess of food are my own.
♥Happy eating, Jane