In Hoi An, it isn’t just the shopping experience that leaves a good taste in your mouth.
Centuries ago, the busy port attracted traders from all over the Orient and the Mediterranean. Today, the town boasts a unique local cuisine which draws upon a wide range of flavors, influences and cooking techniques.
Hoi An is home to a number of special dishes that have been traced back to China and Japan, such as cao lầu(noodles with sliced pork, bean sprouts and herbs), mì Quảng (Quang Nam-style noodles) and bánh bao, bánh vạt(white rose-steamed rice dumplings with pork and shrimp inside).
That said, fresh Vietnamese flavors are still king in this quaint seaside town.
As the old town welcomes more and more tourists from all over the world, local chefs are working hard to preserve and improve their own traditional specialties.
One such chef, Trinh Diem Vy, has been very successful in introducing Hoi An’s traditional cuisine to visitors. Vy runs four famous restaurants in town. She is also known as a dedicated cooking instructor.
She has become famous for her gỏi đu đủ (green papaya salad) – a recipe she has passed on to numerous students at her Morning Glory Cooking School at 106 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street.
Though her repertoire is broad, Vy specializes in a simple but delicious summer favorites.
The dish is rich in ingredients but is surprisingly simple and satisfying, particularly during the summer.
Gỏi đu đủ is a wonderful mixture of julienned unripe papaya, chilies and carrots sprinkled with crushed peanuts and sesame seeds. If you’ve ever visited Hoi An, you will easily fall in love with the way locals use herbs to spice up and decorate their dishes, especially salads.
Vy is no exception. She incorporates local mint (rau răm), anise basil (rau húng quế), coriander (rau mùi), and green shiso (rau kinh giới) into the mix, bringing the dish to a whole new level.
“Herbs play a very important role in Hoi An’s kitchens,” she said. “This land is well-known for growing some of the best in the country and we should take advantage of this.”
The fresh herbs and fruits are dressed in a pungent mix of scallion oil, fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, garlic and crushed chilies.
Though Hoi An is full of fresh salad options, I always start my meals with a nice gỏi đu đủ. I love the light sweet taste of papaya, the crunchy roasted peanuts and sesame, and the wonderful mix of herbs and dressing. This is really worth trying if you haven’t yet.
Papaya salad is now popular throughout the country. We often see this green dish at weddings, meetings, and New Year’s feasts. Although people in different regions may add or omit certain ingredients, Hoi An-style papaya salad is, to my taste, always the most delicious.