Savouring Hoi an
Lara Dunston is captivated by the distinctive cuisine of Central vietnam’s unESCo World Heritage-listed Hoi an as much as its enchanting port town, enticing beaches and alluring resort.
Frosted glasses of chilled white wine in hand, my neighbouring diners are transfixed by the idyllic scene before us: infinity pools framed by lofty palm trees, powdery sand and azure sea beyond. as dreamy as the setting of Central vietnam’s The nam Hai is, i’m more distracted by the plate being set down before me: a pretty banana flower and smoked duck salad (goi hai chuoi), combined with wok-fried shallots, fresh greens and fragrant herbs – plucked that morning from the hotel’s garden – that reveals as many textures and perfumes as flavours.
The authentic touch The nam Hai, set on pristine Ha My Beach, is a destination in itself – a village of discreet Zen villas, designed on feng shui principles, with architecture that tips a conical hat to the royal tombs of the imperial city of Hue to the north. it’s the sort of resort where, once sprawled on a sun bed, sipping a cocktail infused with lemongrass and kaffir lime, you send a message to the concierge to cancel the afternoon’s excursion. i resist the urge. i’m here for the food and the fantastic breakfast is still fresh in my mind. The nam Hai lays out one of the most generous spreads around with an ample buffet of exotic fruits, just-baked pastries, house-made yoghurt and eggs. i opted for the dish that is ‘Hoi an in a bowl’ – cao lâu.
Earthy noodles, handmade every morning by a local family to an ancient, well-guarded and much-mythologised recipe, are topped with succulent slivers of char siu roasted pork, seasoned in a five-spice marinade and garnished with an array of greens: aromatic mint, basil, rice paddy herb, vietnamese fish mint and lettuce. Sprinkled over these are crispy deep-fried squares, while secreted beneath them are crunchy sprouts. Hotels often don’t achieve the authenticity found on the street or in the home, but The nam Hai’s version of this legendary dish would hold up alongside the many renditions i’d try during my stay.
Most guests are here to explore the atmospheric streets of Hoi an, a charming riverside town of centuries-old Japanese-style timber houses, incensefilled Chinese temples and French colonial shop-houses dripping with lanterns. it’s all surrounded by emerald rice fields and palm-fringed beaches. What many don’t realise is that Hoi an is also home to a distinctive cuisine and unique dishes – the result of its long history as a cosmopolitan trading port – that cannot be found elsewhere.