On an episode of No Reservations, the late Anthony Bourdain indulges in a sandwich at Bánh Mì Phượng in Hội An, Vietnam. The minute-or-so clip of him noshing on the crunchy baguette stuffed with liver pâté, grilled pork, and fried egg turned the small street vendor into something of a foodie destination. In present day, Bánh Mì Phượng has a photo of Bourdain from that trip hanging on its wall, and it is no doubt a contributor to the long line that cascades from its open-air kitchen.
The line is worth it (and really, it moves very quickly); this Vietnamese street-food staple is a delicious amalgamation of meats, juices, spices, and sauces, and it costs about as much as a coffee.
There is plenty more to eat in this historic town, too. A former trading port, Hội An’s ancient village is a UNESCO-listed heritage site teeming with hanging lanterns, street vendors, and tailor shops. But eating is, at least for this writer, one of the main reasons to travel the world—and Vietnam’s central province does not disappoint.
For a more upscale dinner, consider Mango Mango; enjoy fresh papaya salad and pan-seared tuna steak alongside refreshing tropical cocktails. Or there is sister restaurant Mai Fish, which has a wonderful patio along the river and boasts simple dishes like grilled chicken with vermicelli noodles and fresh herbs.
Then there’s the hidden Nu Eatery, where the steamed pork buns are an absolute must, and where the noodles with spicy pork ragu offer a unique take on Vietnamese ingredients. Or over at White Rose Restaurant, white rose dumplings are the thing to get; nearly-translucent dough is filled with shrimp and pork and topped with crispy shallots, made artfully by a team of fast-handed women sitting nearby. And for something extra feel-good, consider Streets: a cafe that employs underprivileged youth and engages them in the food service industry (plus, the dishes are fresh, fragrant, and flavourful).
Vietnam is definitely a meat country, and carnivores visiting Hội An would regret not visiting Bale Well. Found in an alleyway, the outdoor restaurant serves just one thing: satay pork skewers that are turned into delicious spring rolls with crispy rice paper, fresh herbs and vegetables, deep-fried rolls (yes, you put one spring roll inside the other), and crunchy turmeric pancakes. The do-it-yourself adventure is a true culinary experience, so best to arrive hungry. Very hungry.
When it comes to drinks, Mia Coffee is a simple spot for a classic Vietnamese iced coffee with sweet condensed milk, and The Bird House makes a lovely (and decadent) traditional egg coffee. There is also White Marble for wine, and Tadioto for expertly-crafted cocktails, because sometimes a whisky-based drink is just what one needs. Most of the time, though, fresh Vietnamese food will be all that’s required—and this place has some of the very best.