A tour of Hoi An’s best food. Yes, that’s right: A. Tour. Of. Food. !

Hoi An, in Central Vietnam, is supposedly famous for it’s incredible food. We have been in touch with many families who have stayed in this area, who have raved not just about the food, but also the friendly people, the lovely environment and the great-value accommodation. After staying for a week, I would have to say that we completely agree! So much so, that we ended up extending our stay for a further 7 days. We love Hoi An!

On one of our first nights in the town, a group of travelling families that we have met via FaceBook, arranged to meet up and organised a guide to show us the food highlights of the city. Can you imagine anything more exciting for a foodie like me than to go on a tour of a town and stop at all of the best food places in the area? Unfortunately, Aaron and the kids sat this one out as we weren’t sure whether the kids would enjoy the experience, plus after a day and night of travelling from Nha Trang the night before, they just fancied a DVD film night, complete with popcorn. So this time, I had to take one for the team…

The tour was organised with Man, the Private Tour Guide, who I would highly recommend for his local knowledge (he grew up in Hoi An), his enthusiasm and of course, his knowledge of great places to eat!

The food tour
Our food tour group – all travelling families from all over the world who have met via a fantastic Facebook group

What actually happens on a food tour?

Well, we all met up and walked directly to Banh Mi Phuong, which claims to serve the world’s best sandwiches, as proclaimed by Anthony Bourdain, the acclaimed chef and food critique.

Are they good? Yes! This is a crusty baguette filled with all things yummy – ham, beef, a fried egg, home-made pate, salad and various special sauces, including gravy and a chilli jam. Delicious! All that for just 25,000 VD (85p). We returned here as a family several times as it was just so good! Even the kids loved them (you could order without spice, if preferred!). Back home, I don’t think packed lunches will ever be the same again after this….

We then moved on to a street hawker stall, and sat, perched on tiny chairs, enjoying little quail egg tartlets, with a home made sausage on a sweet papaya salad – also delicious. Although the chef’s service-without-a-smile didn’t go unnoticed by our group and she rudely ushered us away, as soonQuail egg tarts with sausage and papaya salad as we finished eating! We learnt here that it is good local practice to wipe down your chop-sticks thoroughly with the paper napkins at your table before use. I’m not sure if this actually does much towards cleaning the chopsticks particularly well, but I guess its better than nothing! Apparently, the more paper napkins there are on the floor around a hawker stall, the better the trade, thus indicating good food enjoyed by locals…

Making Cao laoOn the tour we enjoyed Cao Lao, which is a noodle dish that can only be made authentically in Hoi an, because local cooks use the water from a well in a secret place in the town to add to the noodles and sauce, and this is what gives the unique flavour of the dish. It is served with grilled pork, green veg and crackers. We had enjoyed this several times as a family prior to the tour, although the dish served by this particular cook in the covered market in central Hoi An old town was definitely the best I had tried.

We were later shown the well in which the water is drawn from. It’s not so nice and I’m hoping the urine smell was just from someone who got caught short in the tiny lane where the well is situated, not because people use the well as a urinal, adding their own flavour to this special water. Whatever: I didn’t eat Cao Lao again after this.Cao Lao. Noodles made with well water. A unique flavour.

Cao Lao. Noodles made with well water. A unique flavour.

We tried another local delicacy, which is called ‘White rose’. Apparently, this dish has a patented recipe and is only supposed to be served Hoi An's famous white rose dishby a couple of local Hoi An based restaurants, although you can order it in most places in the town. White Rose is kind of like an open tortalini parcel, with shrimps in the centre. It tastes really good!

At another street stall, we had fresh spring rolls, which you wrapped yourself, with fresh vegetables and herbs and hot barbecued skewers of pork. Delicious!  Moving on we tried the Hoi An version of wontons – which is a giant fried tortilla crisp, topped with a sweet and sour mix of chicken, shrimp or pork, with vegetables. This was OK, quite sweet and by now I was pretty full! There was also an opportunity to taste test the various local beers.

Finally, we ended the evening by enjoying fresh juice, Vietnamese coffee, and lots of good conversation! Our group consisted of people from the USA, Canada, UK (me!) and our Vietnamese guide. It was a great tour, which lasted over 3 hours and taught us not just about the local food, but also lots of facts about Hoi An, Vietnamese life and traditions. For $20 (£13) it was money well spent and a great way of learning about the city, as well as finding great places to go back to and eat later during our stay.

Our guide Man
With our guide, Man

* A big thank you to our friend Chris Winter and family, who joined me on the tour, and took many of the photos used in this blog!

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