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Cao Lau, One Of Vietnam’s Greatest Culinary Treasures

// Sunday Travel Trivia

When I visited the picturesque town of Hoi An – a town in central Vietnam in March, the hotel receptionist, when telling me about the different heritage places to see, also said not to leave without eating Cao Lau, a Hoi An speciality.

Unfortunately, the restaurant she recommended was closed for renovation, so on the last day I went to have Cao Lau at a restaurant on the river front opposite the famous Japanese bridge.

Cao lau consists of thick rice noodles, pieces of barbecued pork, greens and crunchy croutons. The pork is sliced thin and cooked in the traditional Chinese method known as “char siu”. In addition to adding greens on top of the dish, it’s also common to add bean sprouts, which, together with the greens, add a burst of freshness and a crisp texture to the chewy noodles and meaty pork. The final touch is the crunch of the croutons, which are made from dried cao lau noodles.

The cao lau noodles are the star of the show and the ingredient that makes this dish unique to Hoi An. While the exact recipe is known only to a few people, the tale behind the noodles is legendary. First, cao lau noodles are said to be made using only water from one ancient well in Hoi An called the Ba Le well.

In addition to the water for cao lau noodles supposedly coming from this one, special well, the water is also supposed to be mixed with a specific type of ash to create a lye solution. The ash is said to come from a type of tree found on the Cham islands, which are off the coast of Hoi An.

The precise process of making cao lau noodles also sets them apart. The recipe is a secret, known only to a few families in Hoi An.

Did I like it???
Hmmmmm was okay. I would prefer my 2 minute noddles anytime over Cao Lau. With the two-month lockdown, I have become quite a specialist in making them.

L: the Cao Lau I ate
TR: Japanese bridge
BR: Ba Le well

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