A Food Lover's Guide To Hoi An
Maybe it was Hoi An’s history as a maritime merchant’s crossroads, one where flavours and ingredients from across Asia and around the world would meld in delicious harmony. Or, maybe it was the late, great Anthony Bourdain championing the town’s banh mi and myriad bowls of sensational local noodles. Whatever the reason, the formerly sleepy port on the north Vietnam coast has become a Mecca for lovers of great food. It never disappoints and with 800 places to eat in a town of just 120,000, you’re truly spoilt for choice. Prices are also an absolute steal, with brilliant stuffed banh mi or delicious bowls of local noodles rarely costing more than one US dollar. Barely a 90-minute flight from Hong Kong, it also represents one of the most compelling cultural getaways for an easy long weekend.
Start the day at Madame Khanh, The Banh Mi Queen
Hoi An is said to be home to the best examples of Vietnam’s famous stuffed baguettes, banh mi. Certainly there are no shortage of options, with countless little roadside stalls, tiny shops and regular restaurants all serving their own take. Homemade patés, secret chilli sauces, mayonnaise, barbecued meats, juliennes of crisp vegetables and even Laughing Cow cheese are just some of the ingredients you’ll find on offer. Madame Phuong is the town’s most famous thanks to constant lines—they sell up to 3,000 a day—and Anthony Bourdain’s ringing endorsement. I preferred the quieter but not modestly named ‘Madame Kwanh, The Banh Mi Queen’. The 70-something used to craft them all herself with deft layering by chopsticks, but even though today she has staff make them, never has one US dollar been so well spent. My tip? Go for the barbecued meat option for sandwich nirvana.
Madame Khanh, The Banh Mi Queen, 115 Trần Cao Vân, Phường Minh An, tp. Hội An, Vietnam; +84 777 476 177; madamkhanh.com
Hot new opening: Thirty Seven Woodfired Grill and Bar
Thirty Seven Woodfired Grill and Bar has quickly proved popular with locals and visitors alike since opening only a few months ago in an old riverside house. Vietnamese ingredients and flavours pepper the menu but meats are understandably the main draw, grilled over a mix of sustainable local wood, coconut and sugar cane. Maybe its coconut smoked suckling pig, Black Angus grain-fed sirloin or their house made charcuterie which will tempt you, while decadent mousse with 70% cacao local chocolate, berries and a cashew nut praline ensures no one leaves hungry.
Thirty Seven Woodfired Grill and Bar, 37 Đường Phan Bội Châu, Hội An, Vietnam; +84 77 876 9037; thirtysevenwoodfired.com
For a true local flavour: Quan An Hong
While Hoi An is all about true local flavour, no dish is more beloved than cao lau, their sensational noodle bowl. Pork belly is the hero, while the noodles look and bite like udon—unsurprisingly as Japan had a long history of trade with Hoi An. Only one family has the recipe to make the rice flour noodles, light yellow strands which get their distinctive colour from water to which firewood ash has been added. The pork is first steeped in a marinade of star anise, cassia bark and more to give it a unique, aromatic sweetness, then the critical crunch comes from rice crackers and those fresh greens, before a spoon of the local chilli jam. Quan An Hong do one of the town’s most popular and authentic bowls in no-frills surroundings. Not to be missed.
Quan An Hong, 22 Duong Thai Phien, Hoi An, Vietnam; +84 0973 725 123
Get a drink at Art Space Anantara
The Anantara Hoi An is a lovely hotel a few minutes’ walk down river from the heart of the city. Its colonial architecture, banyan trees and lawns make it a great spot to kick back and escape the often-busy centre of town, but their newly-launched Art Space shows they also know how to have a good time. Works by local artists and photographers cover the walls, while a creative cocktail programme, strong wine selection and craft beers mean you’ve no shortage of choices to wet your whistle. Don’t miss their Pho cocktail that cleverly uses flavours from the iconic soup broth to boozy effect. Great tapas-inspired small plates are on offer when hunger comes calling.
Art Space Anantara, 1 Pham Hong Thai Street, Hoi An, Vietnam; +84 235 391 4555; anantara.com/en/hoi-an
Splurge at The Four Seasons Resort The Nam Hai
The beachside Four Seasons, the former Nam Hai, is a 15-minute drive from the centre of Hoi An but a popular choice for those seeking a culinary option that is sleeker than most. While you pay prices to match, there’s no doubting the quality of the ingredients and execution of classic dishes, both Vietnamese and global. La Sen is their contemporary fine dining venue which combines international comfort food along with contemporary interpretations of local classics. They also feature regular events focusing on specialties like hot pot, Nha Trang lobster night or Duong Bo Song which celebrates Vietnam’s street food experience in a waterfront setting.
Four Seasons Resort The Nam Hai, Block Ha My Dong B, Dien Duong Ward, Hoi An, Vietnam; +84 235 394 0000; fourseasons.com/hoian
A food souvenir to take back: chilli jam
Given the number of visitors in Hoi An, there are culinary souvenirs almost at every turn. Those rice crackers that end up in noodle bowls across town are a good choice, while less authentic options include packets of pho soup broth—largely because the famed soup is a dish of Southern Vietnam and not that prevalent in Hoi An. A great option is that locally made chilli jam, usually sold in plastic jars with red caps. Heat fans need not fear as it’s sticky and sweet with pretty mild levels of warmth, but it works brilliantly as an addition to broths and sandwiches. While homemade versions are on sale all over town, the most renowned is Ot Tuong Trieu Phat who have spent five generations and 150 years perfecting their recipe.
On sale at 41 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street or in Hoi An Central Market