I thought to start writing up about our recent trip to Hoi An since we’ll be off to Phuket next weekend. I’m currently waiting for our official wedding photos to come back to us before I catch you all up on our wedding weekend, which by the way, went beautifully.
Just three days after we tied the knot, we flew off with Flo’s Mum, Ute, Naima and Martin to Hoi An for five days. We arrived on a Tuesday evening so it was dark and having done little research on where to eat, we had dinner at this restaurant called Mango Mango which caters largely to the tourist population. Food was good but very much on the pricier side. It did the job of filling us up though before we went back to our hotel for the night.
Next day, after having a nice sleep in and breakfast at our hotel, we went out to explore Hoi An Ancient Town which was about an 8min walk away. It was a weepy day but we were armed with umbrellas, and for Ute, a poncho, so we refused to be deterred.
Do note that there is a one-time entry fee into the Ancient City going at USD7/person. The money is supposed to contribute to the maintenance of the area and while security isn’t particularly tight, especially at night when it’s crazy crowded, we paid up at the ticket kiosk before entering. Y’know, to have a clear conscience and also out of respect for the people and the place.
The whole town is quite picturesque and lovely to walk around before the throngs of tourists arrive on large tour buses later in the afternoon.
As it started pouring a bit harder shortly into our poke around, we decided to make a stop at Hoi An Roastery (they have multiple chains around the area) for coffee/tea.
Flo was keen on having an egg coffee although sadly, the one here didn’t measure up to the ones he had in Hanoi.
I had a Matcha Latte which was insanely sweet. I forget that in countries like Thailand and Vietnam, sugar goes into many drinks by default unlike here. I ended up downing a couple of mouthfuls before I gave up and Ute had to help me slurp the rest up.
After a bit more walking, we decided it was time for lunch and we HAD to go try Banh Mi Phuong – said to have the best Banh Mi EVER according to the late Anthony Bourdain.
Even with the rain, there was a line of people waiting for their orders to be taken and made ala minute. We found out later when we went upstairs for seats that if you’re dining in, you can grab a table and order from a server instead of waiting in line.
The queue moves pretty quickly regardless with a few different servers taking each order and deftly assembling each banh mi within seconds.
They have more than 10 different banh mi combinations – beef, egg, chicken and cheese, traditional ham and pate, vegetarian, bbq pork… I had the chicken without cheese banh mi because the thought of chicken with cheese just didn’t quite mesh with me.
Turns out, they use laughing cow cheese for ‘cheese’ and not the sliced cheese I was thinking of. I found that out because Martin kept the cheese for his banh mi order.
Crusty baguette that tasted pretty awesome. I loved the array of extra condiments they had on the table, especially their own brand of chilli sambal that had a really good fiery kick. Personally, I still have great memories of the banh mi I had in Ho Chi Minh City a few years back at Hyunh Hoa. That was the traditional banh mi filled with mystery meats and pates but it tasted so damn good!
After lunch, we walked around some more looking for coffee beans and tea leaves before treating ourselves to a short rest back at the hotel. I looked up some more places for dinner since holidays are too short to eat lousy food. My first choice was sadly, closed at dinner time, so we went a hop, skip and a jump away to Pho Xua which took a short wait for us to get in.
We had an order of White Rose Dumplings, a Hoi An special named as such because of the way the dumplings are delicately folded with a small ball of meat in the middle. Flo loved these!
Their version of wantons were also highly favoured by the Germans with the high crispy skin to meat ratio. They love the crispy skin more than the meat, and these were topped with a kind of tomato salsa that seemed to up the pleasure factor for them.
I had a bowl of regular beef pho. I think what’s defined as a great bowl of pho boils down to personal preference. For sure, it being boiled from scratch without artificial enhancers is a must. But the strength of the spices that go into flavouring the broth differs from restaurant to restaurant. I’m more used to the broth being more strongly accented by the flavours of cinnamon and star anise, so I found the pho here to be above average but a little subtle in flavour.
I wasn’t too keen on the cuts of beef either mainly because they weren’t as lean as I’d have liked. That being said, Flo enjoyed his bowl of pho, and the chicken pho Naima had was thoroughly lapped up. For them, the pho here was ace whereas I actually prefer Long Phung’s pho (our go-to here in Singapore).
After dinner, we thought to visit the night market only to be greeted with a torrent of rain upon exiting the eatery. We ended up huddled under the roof of the building across the road waiting for the rain to subside. It did, eventually. But as we walked towards the night market, the rain started to patter down harder once more and we aborted our plan in favour of a zen cafe where we had tea/drinks and dessert.
Interestingly, I remember little about what we did on day 2 since photos were few for that day. I believe we did quite a bit of walking around Ancient Town once more. Flo and Martin went to make suits and Ute, a dress. Ute, Florian and I also went for a to-die-for foot massage where we laid down on beds while having our feet pampered. It was so relaxing both Ute and I fell asleep. Flo was in a separate room but if his was any bit as good as ours were, I’m pretty sure he did too!
We met back with Naima and Martin after our massage so we could all go for dinner together. I’d read up on a blog about this one place by the river called Sao Mai. It’s totally underrated and when we arrived, there was only one table occupied. Once we sat down though, it didn’t take long for the place to fill up a bit more.
Compared to other restaurants along the river, Sao Mai is a lot less adorned and far simpler in looks. Food prices were extremely reasonable though and everyone loved the food.
During our trip here, Flo fell in love also with Hoi An’s other regional dish – Cao Lao. It can only be found in Hoi An because the water used to make the noodles comes from an ancient Cham well just outside the town.
The noodles are thicker, a little like Japanese udon, with some bite to it. It’s usually topped with pork, pork rinds, vegetables, and bathed in a soy based gravy. I didn’t take to it the way Flo did. In fact, almost every time cao lao was on the menu, he’d order it.
We returned the next evening to Sao Mai for dinner since we couldn’t think of where else to eat and since everyone liked it so much. Naima thought the beef pho there was even better than the pho from Pho Xua, and Martin enjoyed the stir-fried morning glory there, ordering it both times as well.
We also managed to explore the night market that evening.
While bustling with activity, the night market was filled with cart after cart of pretty much the same stuff – either souvenirs or food carts selling banana pancakes or local ice cream or grilled seafood. The fun of it was more in soaking up the atmosphere and taking in the sights and sounds than anything else.
I declare this day to be my favourite day in Hoi An – COOKING CLASS!!
We woke up bright and early at 7am for hotel breakfast before we were picked up just after 8am to first visit a local market.
I was being a total class snot quickly answering whenever our guide asked what this was or that was – perks of being the only Asian in the group, hence, the familiarity with more Asian produce.
After a walk around the market, we were whisked off the the cooking school where we were treated to a little ride along the river on round boats.
Here, we caught purple crabs. Flo and I caught 5 altogether. I caught 3 and he, 2. Haha. I win! Then again, he did catch the biggest one of our loot. And no, we didn’t cook them. They were returned home after we’d had our fun catching them.
First order of the day was to make our own nuoc cham. I made sure to add lots of chilli to mine!
We learned how to make fresh rice paper…
And ban xeo with pork…
A short break to roll our fresh rice paper rolls with veggies and tofu.
Before moving on to skinning our roasted eggplant…
And flambeing the sweet-sour tomato sauce to top it with.
We also learned to make banana flower salad with prawns, and were shown how to make beef pho from scratch.
I super enjoyed every bit of the cooking class. While it might not be quite so viable to make every dish we learned here back home, I’ll definitely make some of them… like the sauce for the roasted eggplant will go damn well with fish or prawns, and I’d love to try my hand at making the broth for pho. I loved the fresh summer rolls but I don’t think we’ll be able to make the fresh skins at home ourselves so we’ll have to make do with the dried ones they sell at the supermarket. Still, it was an awesome experience and I’d love for Flo and I to go for more cooking classes on our travels just because they’re fun and also because they give an insight into the local culture, allowing us to gain a greater appreciation of it through food.
We visited Marble Mountain and Monkey Mountain.
We didn’t see any monkeys.
We hired the hotel driver and car to take us out for our day trip starting 10am. We opted for this since there were 5 of us and having our own transportation gave us the flexibility to take as long or as short as we wanted at each location. Marble Mountain was interesting and had more to see while Monkey Mountain had a provided a nice view of Danang. If we had a few more days, we’d have visited the New Golden Bridge aka Giant Hand Bridge as well as My Son Ruins.
We arrived back in Hoi An at 3pm and unanimously decided to go back to Banh Mi Phuong once more.
Defaulted to the Chicken/No Cheese Banh Mi and added more of that special chilli sauce on top. Noms!
We had a full day before heading back to Singapore but with us having to pack up and check out, it stilled felt like a rushed day. We chose to extend Ute’s check out time so the rest of us had to pack up and move our luggage over to her room at 12pm. Thereafter, we went to hunt around for the last of the souvenirs/presents we wanted to get. We finally managed to pay a visit to Central Market which is a much more sanitary version of the local market.
Within the market is also a large space filled with food stalls. Most looked identical but I remembered reading somewhere that there’s a stall there that our dear Anthony Bourdain vouched as having the best pho in all of Vietnam (perhaps I exaggerate). It was supposed to be quite inconspicuous and the only telling sign is a little photo on the wall of the lady cook with Bourdain.
And sure enough, a couple of stalls in and we found it.
It was warm in there and the aunty couldn’t speak much English, but her warmth was genuine and her smile spoke volumes. We pointed to the menu to order and within minutes, she got to work, speedily serving up bowls of piping hot pho and fresh banh mi (for Martin).
Flo and I shared an order of pork cao lao too since it was going to be our last meal in Hoi An and God knows when he’ll next get to devour this local specialty.
The pork was really flavourful but again, it’s not a dish I’m head over heels about. It’s nice. But not mind-blowing for me.
The beef pho was on the sweeter side and served topped with some peanuts which brought a contrast in textures. It wasn’t too heavy on the palate and the noodles had a smooth, silky chew that I liked.
Now, I’m not one to argue with Anthony Bourdain. I hold him up in high regard especially when it comes to food, so while I found myself happily inhaling this bowl of pho, I think my preference is still for the broth to have a stronger infusion of spices. Still, if I were to return once more to Hoi An, I’ll make a beeline to this stall over and over again.
And of course I had to take a picture with the exceptional cook! It’s the closest I’ll ever get to Anthony Bourdain!!
Honestly though, all five of us thought our last meal here was the best. Even Ute who’d been staying away from eating too much meat this trip gave her two thumbs up for the beef pho and finished every single drop of soup.
After lunch, I wanted to go to The Espresso Station after seeing their highly instagrammable beetroot latte.
Unfortunately there was no air con seating so we had to make do with being blasted by fans or melt under the sweltering heat.
Yes I did have my beetroot latte which turned out to be a beauty without substance. It was a gorgeous shade of pink complete with a heart but it tasted meh. The texture was gritty and the flavour was milky but not in the creamy way milk should taste.
And it was hot. Sometimes I wonder how my brain fails to think. A hot drink on a hot day makes you feel hotter. Thankfully we also ordered two large bottles of cold water.
The latter half of our afternoon was spent on a delicious body massage for us young ‘uns while Ute went back for a dip in the pool before we all got back to get ready for the airport.
I told Florian that the 5 days we spent together in Hoi An was just nice. Any more and I’d be bored of the place since we stuck mainly to Ancient Town and found ourselves trawling the same streets every day. Also, as much as I love Vietnamese food, Singapore has spoiled me with the variety of food we have access to every day – having a different cuisine at every meal. So yes, I was tiring of pho and cao lao, white rose dumplings and summer rolls. No, I lie. I can have summer rolls every day. Without the pork. With shrimp.
As beautiful as Hoi An is, all lit up at night with lanterns lining the streets, it is truly a tourist city. I found the endless number of people coming up to us wanting us to buy cards from them, or to go on a boat ride, rather annoying. I understand that for them, this is life. They make a living from the tourism industry, from tourists. But perhaps we could have been left in peace while sat in a cafe downing some coffee, you know?
This was our second holiday with Naima and Martin – our first was last year to Thailand, and my first with Ute. As with any family holiday, it wasn’t all rainbows and roses. There were a few tiny tiffs but nothing the bond and love of family cannot overcome.
Me? I had fun with my new hubby(!!!), and spending time with Naima and Martin. I got to know Ute better as a person, and as a travelling companion, and as a mother.
Our home is quiet once more now that all three are back in Germany. Florian and I are back to our usual lives but with more travelling lined up for the next couple months left in the year. There’s still so much more to share post-Hoi An, at least for me on a more personal level. I’ll try to write up one more post about my progress away from ED before we go to Phuket. Also, fingers and toes crossed our wedding photos come back soon so I can share with you all about our big weekend! X