Food Worth Traveling For // Cao Lau With Fresh Mint & Basil

Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An old town at sunset

Hoi An old town at sunset

A few years ago, I backpacked through Vietnam for 3-weeks with my boyfriend. No real plans, just a map and the rough idea to follow the Reunification Express, north.  What resulted was a life-changing adventure filled with candied ginger, bicycles, late nights, beaches, bustling cities and sun.

boats with Hoi An's old city in the background

boats with Hoi An's old city in the background

After countless bowls of Pho, we arrived in Hoi An, an old city on the central coast that we added to our itinerary at the very last second on a whim.  It turned out to be my favorite stop on our Vietnam journey.   

woman in a boat // hoi an, vietnam

woman in a boat // hoi an, vietnam

Hoi An is a quaint old town surrounded by rice fields and sleepy fishing villages.  Hoi An Ancient Town is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a Southeast Asian trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th century. It is a Unesco World Heritage Site steeped in history and French inspired architecture. 

green rice paddies and Laos mountains in the distance 

green rice paddies and Laos mountains in the distance 

On clear days from the outskirts of town you can see all the way to Laos, the mountains rising in the distance, shrouded by a low hanging veil of clouds.

Hoi An at sunset

Hoi An at sunset

Upon arrival, after walking 2 miles in the wrong direction hauling our backpacks from the bus stop we stumbled upon a quaint guesthouse right outside of the old town, famished and sunburnt.  

green rice fields | udon with fresh mint and basil via Olives for Dinner.

green rice fields | udon with fresh mint and basil via Olives for Dinner.

That night for dinner we ate Cao Lau. I don’t remember if we were looking for it, or we just stumbled upon it, but it was amazing. Epic even. I was hungry. It was crisp and clean and delicious.  Washed down with a few Tiger beer’s and I was ready to explore. Just like music does, meals conjure up specific memories for me – they bring me back to an exact moment in time – the smells, taste, sights and feel of a place.  And that is exactly what happened when I came across the photo above, on Pinterest.

crisp green rice paddies // hoi an, vietnam

crisp green rice paddies // hoi an, vietnam

Flashes of green rice paddies, and the hot, humid February weather sticking to my skin, the cool texture of spring rolls wrapped in incredibly thin rice paper – beautiful memories from our Southeast Asia adventures.  My mouth is watering just thinking about the invigorating taste of the mint and basil with the slightly chewy texture of the udon noodles and the fiery heat of the Thai chilies. 

rice fields and houses on a bike ride through rural Hoi An

rice fields and houses on a bike ride through rural Hoi An

Now I know that udon is not Vietnamese, however Cao Lau noodles are firmer and chewier than traditional VIetnamese noodles and are very reminiscent of the Japanese variety. What I found inspiring (and what immediately brought me back to my trip to Hoi An) was the flavor combination in this bowl. 

This could seriously come in handy as a substitute when you are craving the specific flavor profile of the classic Vietnamese dish of Cao Lau.  And since the original would be near impossible to emulate in Texas (the original dish is said to be made with special water from a well that can only be found in Hoi An.)

Do you have a dish you crave from a trip abroad? Tell us about it in the comments below!

 

*Inspiration photo: Mint, Basil and Cilantro Udon Noodle Bowl, recipe on Olives for Dinner