03 May 2016

Hoi An II: Food, Drink and Coffee

In a country filled with fine food destinations, Hoi An is rightly viewed as one of the finest. One of the reasons I wanted to stay there a little longer than most of the other cities on my Vietnam itinerary was so that I could sample as many of the restaurants and local dishes as I could. It didn't hurt that Hoi An has a burgeoning speciality coffee scene, which I did my best to explore.

But First, Coffee
Before my trip, I had identified three cafes that looked like good bets for speciality coffee: The Espresso Station, Mia Coffee (Fancy a Cuppa seconded this) and Hoi An Roastery. I also visited a lovely three-week-old cafe called Rosie's Cafe after finding it on Instagram. Finally, blogger Not Just Another Milla recommended the Reaching Out Teahouse, which sounded like a beautiful experience, but alas: the national holidays in Vietnam meant that it was closed all weekend.

I will blog in more detail about my coffee experiences at each of these cafes in the Vietnam speciality coffee guide I will put together at the end of my trip, but for now, here are the details:

The Espresso Station. 28/2 Trần hưng đạo. The Espresso Station was first on my list of Hoi An cafes to check out but when I got there on Thursday afternoon, I saw that they were closed until Monday — my last day. Luckily, I was able to make it over there before I had to leave to catch my plane. It was a sweltering day but Trung made me a wonderful iced pourover (70,000 VND) with an Indonesian Papadayan coffee. I sat next to the bar while I drank it and watched Trung whip up some very fine lattes. It's a great cafe with really high-quality coffee. There's also a little courtyard seating area if you can bear the heat.

Mia Coffee. 20 Phan Bội. I was pleased to discover that Mia Coffee was located just half a block away from my hotel, a 5–10 minute walk from the Old Town. I stopped by a few times and it was always bustling with locals and tourists. I had a very good Vietnamese-style filter coffee, a fine piccolo and, on the hottest day, some kind of blended coffee–milk–ice concoction that really hit the spot. They roast their own coffee on-site and the cafe has a friendly, relaxed atmosphere.

Rosie's Cafe. 8/6 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai. Friends My and Thuy opened up this stylish cafe just three weeks ago and although it's only a couple of minutes' walk west from the Japanese covered bridge (turn right when you see the sign for the Nguyen Tuong Family Chapel), it's a welcoming oasis away from the hubbub of the Old Town. The cold brew (50,000 VND) is excellent and they also serve Vietnamese coffee, cold-pressed juices and sweet treats. I'll share some more of the story of Rosie's Cafe in my Vietnam coffee round-up.

Hoi An Roastery. 135 Tran Phu. Although the Hoi An Roastery website lists just one cafe, I spotted at least two others while I was there. I visited the Tran Phu location and tried the pourover (40,000 VND), which was pretty good. The coffee, which they roast themselves, is from Da Lat and you can buy bags of beans too. They also serve French press, siphon and espresso-based drinks. I had another Hoi An Roastery pourover at Cocobox.

Reaching Out Teahouse. 103 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street . Check out Not Just Another Milla's beautiful review.

Bánh Mì
I had a fair few bánh mì — crusty baguette rolls filled with some combination of meat, egg, salad, fresh herbs and spices — while I was in Hoi An. Here are my two favourites:

Madam Khanh (the 'Bánh Mì Queen'). 115 Tran Cao Van. There is no menu at Madam Khanh's, a petite bánh mì restaurant just north of Hoi An's Old Town. I was asked if I wanted "everything" and I said yes. "Chilli?" Yes, please. The sandwich that arrived was one of the best I've ever had: the meat was juicy and flavoursome, the herbs added just the right amount of crispness and the bread itself was perfectly chewy. In other words, 30,000 VND very well spent.

Bánh Mì Phuong. 2B Phan Chau Trinh. Only a few blocks from Madam Khanh is my second favourite bánh mì spot in Hoi An: Bánh Mì Phuong. My from Rosie's Cafe recommended it to me and on both of my visits (one around 10 am and one around 3 pm), I had to queue for about 20 minutes but it was well worth the wait. You can choose from a selection of fillings (I tried both the beef and the barbecue; the latter was my favourite) and none of them cost more than 35,000 VND. After I ordered, I noticed a sign proudly announcing that the restaurant had been featured on Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations.

Cao Lau
One of Hoi An's most famous dishes is cao lau: thick noodles served with pork, fresh greens and wonton crackers and liberally doused with fish sauce. I had the dish a few times and these are my two favourites:

Ms Ly Cafe. 22 Nguyen Hue. There are a lot of tempting dishes on the menu at Ms Ly Cafe, a friendly restaurant housed in a historic building that has been in Ms Ly's family for several generations. I had heard that the cao lau was really good here, though, and it didn't disappoint (about 50,000 VND). I wasn't particularly hungry, owing to the heat, so you might also need another dish if you have more of an appetite than I did. This would also be a nice spot for a romantic meal: the dark-wood interiors and original artwork on the walls give it a sleek appearance.

Bo Bo Cafe. 18 Le Loi. I went here for my first lunch in Hoi An and was immediately worried I had made a huge mistake when a local tour tout came and started chatting to me. Had I fallen into a major tourist trap? The cao lau (about 45,000) was, however, good. Bo Bo is a nice spot for a simple, no-frills lunch; just be prepared to fend off the tout!

Ready To Roll
Bale Well. 45/11 Tran Hung Dao. In Hoi An, I learned, they love to roll things in rice paper. Even things that are already rolled, like spring rolls. At Bale Well, there is a drinks menu but no food menu. All you have to do is say how many people you are eating for and the cheerful, efficient staff will bring you a huge assortment of foods to wrap up: fried spring rolls, barbecued meat, veggies and salad, and, most challengingly, bánh xèo. The latter are crispy rice pancakes that look a bit like a cross between an omelette and a taco. Unsurprisingly, they taste great with meat, wrapped in rice paper and dipped in peanut sauce. The set menu at Bale Well costs 120,000 VND, which is great value. The place was buzzing with Hoi An locals when I visited and there is a really fun vibe.

Ms Vy's Empire
When I started considering my Lonely Planet suggestions and recommendations from other travellers for Hoi An restaurants, I noticed that many of them had one thing in common: Trinh Diem Vy. Ms Vy owns four restaurants in the town and runs popular cooking classes. The Mermaid, near the market, was closed while I was there but I visited Morning Glory and Cargo Club.

Morning Glory. 106 Nguyen Thai Hoc. If you're hoping for a table at Morning Glory on a weekend night and haven't booked, you may be out of luck; the queue is often out of the door. I went there for an early dinner on a Thursday evening and managed to nab a spot upstairs. This restaurant specialises in central Vietnamese specialities with a big emphasis on street food. The staff are very friendly and helpful and will show you to how to prepare/eat your food rather than watching you struggle on. This was useful for me as I'd ordered some fried spring rolls, which came with noodles, greens and rice paper. As you have probably guessed, wrapping was required. I also had a delicious salad with rare beef, green papaya, chilli, peanuts and lime — perfect for the summer heat. The whole meal cost about 200,000 VND including a couple of drinks.

Cargo Club. 107-109 Nguyen Thai Hoc. Just opposite its sister restaurant, Cargo Club boasts an upstairs terrace that overlooks the river. Naturally, the waiting list for the outside tables is rather longer than that for the less desirable indoor spots. I wasn't in a rush so I put my name down for a terrace table and came back 45 minutes later. It was very pleasant to be looking down on the twinkling lights of Hoi An, although the ambiance and food at Morning Glory are more my scene (Cargo Club has a lot of European dishes and there was definitely more of a romantic vibe). I had another local speciality: banh vac (white rose), which are pretty little dumpling-like parcels of shrimp or pork. I really enjoyed this dish and wish I had had it again. I also had another delicious salad, this time with shrimp. Two courses and a cocktail cost about 220,000 VND, although I was ordering at the cheaper end of the menu.

If you only have time for one Ms Vy restaurant, I would recommend Morning Glory; after all, Hoi An has plenty of other great restaurants on offer. I also heard good things about Pho Xua, Secret Garden and Chips and Fish (yes, as a Brit, I would normally avoid a restaurant with a name like the latter, but a couple of locals said that the fish was really very good).

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