Perhaps, the definitive authentic Hội An street food is bánh bèo.
Recently, Hai and I savored that Hội An bánh bèo street food treat with our good friend, Pat, visiting us in Vietnam from southern California.
For those who haven’t yet ventured to the central coast of Vietnam, bánh bèo, is one of the classic dishes of Hội An and Huế, the ancient imperial capital of Vietnam. This small disc-shaped steamed rice cake is typically topped with yummy Vietnamese food treats, including shrimp and/or dried shrimp, chopped green onion, fried shallots, mung bean paste, chilies, fish sauce (of course), and more.
While Pat and I spent the morning relaxing at our hotel, Hai Au Hotel (very nice, by the way), and recovering from our bike ride adventure from the day before, Hai went out on the hunt to find out exactly where the Hội An Bánh Bèo Lady, whom Hai and I had met several years ago, was currently creating her street food magic. Two hours later, after chatting with many local folk, he returned with good news!
“I found her”, he announced proudly. But … not until tomorrow. “She serves only from 2:00 – 4:00 pm each day.”
OK, we have a plan for tomorrow.
We ate lightly for breakfast at the hotel, in anticipation of our very special luncheon treat. In early afternoon, we set out on our Hội An street food adventure. Hai guided Pat and I through the streets of Hội An to the corner of Hoàng Văn Thụ and Trần Phú Streets.
Behold! There they were!
A covy of local folk on their small red plastic stools huddled around a conical’d woman.
With wide smiles on our faces and watering mouths, we arranged our own stools, 3 for our butts and one for our table, and watched the Hội An Bánh Bèo Lady preparing our luncheon delights. We ordered everything!
I’m only mildly embarrassed (truthfully though, not at all) to tell you that we ordered and consumed 23 items amongst just the three of us!
8 bánh bèo
2 bánh nậm
Without doubt, the bánh bèo were the best I’ve ever eaten.
Each small rice paste cake was steamed and presented in its own little ceramic bowl. It was then beautifully served, covered with an orange-colored, shrimp & pork-based sauce containing bits of fresh local river shrimp, fried shallots, and chopped chilies. Finally, the crowning accent, perfectly deep-fried cao lầu noodles topped each bánh bèo.
Cao lầu is a one-of-a-kind specialty noodle, unique to Hội An. The rice flour comprising the noodle contains a small amount of ash from firewood from nearby islands. And the water used in the noodle’s preparation comes only from certain wells located in the town of Hội An itself.
A truly superior street food eating experience! The bánh bèo were firm, yet light and smooth. And the ingredients topping the discs provided a delicate and delicious flavor surge. MAJOR YUM!
Nearly as excellent were the bánh nậm!
Each of these flat rice and tapioca flour noodles were unwrapped from its banana leaf and placed on our plates. Almost sticky (not quite), almost mushy (not quite), the bánh nậm noodles were a delicate and smooth texture sensation. The sauces and toppings here again were heavenly.
To accent our noodle dishes, Pat, Hai and I each unwrapped a couple of nem (Vietnamese salami-like pork sausage) and enjoyed their sharp tangy flavor.
And finally, we had to “sample” the chả – 8 of them! Chả, a Vietnamese beef sausage, provided another nice meaty side dish to our noodle banquette.
On a more sobering note, we realized that while the food was as delicious as we had remembered from years before, the young woman who served us was, well, young!
“Where was the older woman who had been here, literally, for decades??”
“My mom is now 67 years old. She’s carried the weight of all the food and equipment to serve her bánh bèo on the street for many many years. Now her knees and shoulders are failing. I must take over her job so I can take care of her. But I still use her same recipes,” the young woman added humbly.
When I asked if I could take her picture, the woman asked, “Why, I’m not beautiful?” I told her I disagreed strongly.
This is a not-to-be-missed special street food adventure when you visit Hội An.
The total cost of our absolutely wonderful lunch adventure (all 23 items) for the three of us was 81,000 vnd ($3.80 USD).
OPEN: 2:00 – 4:00 pm each day
Our Other Hội An Street Food Adventures
Last year Hai and I shared our Hội An street food tour adventure with The Original Taste of Hoi An Food Tour. The next day, we went on our very own private Hội An eating adventure here. And, more recently (just two weeks ago), we returned to Hội An and had another fun eating experience at the beach.
Hội An Bánh Bèo Lady
Hoàng Văn Thụ street just off the “T” intersection with Trần Phú street
( 50 meters down Hoàng Văn Thụ street from Trung Tâm Hoa Văn Lễ Nghĩa Assembly Hall at 64 Trần Phú)