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You thought our Hoi An food crawl was over, didn’t you? Well clearly you’ve underestimated the power of our appetites.

Actually, Scott said he was full from the gigantic bahn mi and bowl of Cao Lau but I convinced him to soldier on (in the name of research, of course). I was so happy with my powers of persuasion that I neglected to realize one thing: making food decisions when you’re already in a food coma is generally not a good idea.

But two stops does not a food crawl make, so we headed toward the Hoi An food market, wandering under a mosaic of overlapping green and blue tarps while looking for something enticing. Word on the street was that the food there was good, and we eventually saddled up to a stand and ordered two specials:

A crispy stuffed pancake called bahn xeo was the Vietnamese equivalent of the taquito: greasy with a little bit of a crunch, and not as flavorful as you’d think.

Next up is the noodle dish bahn cuo, for which I had high hopes. Thinly shredded herbs and carrots make the long, flat noodles look like they’re filled with confetti, and they fall prettily as they’re hand-cut with a pair of shiny scissors.

But they’re served cool—and I’m never been one for anything that tastes like leftovers the first time around. I forced a few slimy noodles down before giving in. Luckily, at $1.50 for the whole shebang, I don’t feel so bad about leaving food on the plate.

Plus, I didn’t have time to feel bad. I had a $1 manicure to attend to. Oh Hoi An, you make life so hard.

If there is one rule that governs travel food, it is this: the worse the seating, the better the eating. To get the true essence of a country’s cuisine, one must eat on as many plastic stools, lawn chairs, and street curbs as possible. So when we saw dozens of locals sitting down at the plastic kiddie tables at this Cao Lau stand, we knew we wanted to eat there.

Cao Lau is special soup with a lot of stuff in it. Technically it’s special because it can only be made using water from one well; but what really makes it special is all the stuff that goes on top. The earthy-rich broth is laden with thick noodles, salty pork loin, crunchy rice crackers and fresh greens. Holy texture combination heaven.

The owner agrees: the stuff makes it special. We can’t communicate through words but she won’t let us touch our chopsticks until we add condiments that she presents to us like Christmas gifts. She nods as we load the bowl with chopped pickled peppers, dried peppers, fresh peppers and pickled onions. I’ve never been so glad to like peppers.

But even if I didn’t like peppers—even if I thought they were terrible—I’d add them for her. Because she hauled that soup water out of a specific well on the outskirts of town just to make her famous Cao Lau, and she’s not about to let someone eat her masterpiece wrong.

A masterpiece it is. $1.25.

It was less than two days into our Hoi An stay when Scott and I started getting soft. I’m not sure if it was the tropical air or the king-like service at the Ha An Hotel, but we were spending far too much of our time lying in hammocks drinking tequila-laced mango juices. If we were ever going to make it to Saigon, we had to earn our traveler street cred back, and there was only one way to do it: the Hoi An Food Crawl.

We devised a plan, readied our stomachs, and set out on a pair of rusted beach cruisers. The first stop? A cluttered sandwich stand that we had spied locals crowded around the evening before.

$3.25 for two bahn mi with the works, plus a coke and a water to wash it all down. It set the bar high.

Layers of pork, cilantro, peppers, cucumber and tomato are stuffed inside crusty French bread doused with just enough earthy au jus to make your jaw happy But the hearty portions came at a heavy price: it was our first stop and our stomachs were starting to feel full. More seasoned travelers would’ve known to save their stomachs by splitting just one sandwich amongst themselves.

Pfff, amateurs.

Next up: Cao Lao.

Hoi An is bikes and lanterns and lizards and magic. It’s a mix of French Colonial sophistication and Southeast Asian vibrancy with a happy, laid-back spirit that envelopes you like a cool cocktail. I wanted to fly all my family and friends over and have us live there forever, sipping mango juice in hammocks by the beach and getting $1 manicures for fun. Scott just wanted to buy a panama hat and play soccer with the locals.

If we ever need to run from the law, you’ll know where to find us.

A photo of me.

About me

Hi, I'm Pam. I'm a runner, reader and recent MBA grad living in Baltimore with my husband. I work in PR, but I spend my off-hours writing here about my life, which mostly revolves around family, friends, fashion and fitness. Sometimes I throw in the occasional food photo just to make sure you're paying attention.

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For questions or freelance opportunities, contact me at theinspirationfiles {at} gmail {dot} com. I'd love to hear from you!

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