One rule I try to abide by when traveling is to visit a UNESCO World Heritage Site in each country. Australia has the Great Barrier Reef, Indonesia has Borobudur and Prambanan, and Vietnam has Ha Long Bay.
Hoi An is also on the list.
Unfortunately, with me visiting during the high season it was more of a tourist trap than a cultural destination. Though I loved the yellow-hued buildings and walks along the river that bisects the town (especially when chicken satay was sizzling nearby), shops overflowed with people all selling the. same. wares.
Leather goods. Paper lanterns. Paintings. Lacquer art. Tailored clothes.
The ever present motorcycle roared by and there was the constant call (found throughout Vietnam) of “Madame, do you want a ride/tour/fill in the blank?” It got annoying, but street hawkers are as much a part of a city as the actual roads and buildings.
When I called myself escaping to the beach with no swimsuit, even the waves seemed angry and exasperated. They crashed into the shore with a ferocity that surprised me and caused my own negative emotions to dissipate.
Hoi An’s true highlights were to be found up a flight of stairs or down a tourist-thronged alley.
It’s highlight is The Food. Forget the Japanese Covered Bridge, the Assembly Hall of the Fujian Chinese Congregation, or any other ticketed site. It is all about Morning Glory’s pho.
A best friend reminded me that I had enjoyed this delectable soup in New York City before, but I had long forgotten. The hint of fresh lime, the broth hovering between salty and sinful, and the rice noodles full of centuries of traditional cooking had me slurping soup down when usually it’s a food that I avoid.
This baptismal by pho had me reborn and eating everything in sight. It’s why I’m now pouring myself into my work clothes until I can manage to run off Lord knows how many pounds.
A Vietnamese spin on the Chinese dumping (the Chinese colonized Vietnam, influencing food and architecture) was a beautiful death by pork and shrimp. The dumpling was wrapped in a casing so thin I thought breathing on it would cause it to rip. But rip it did as I devoured one and then another.
A plate piled high with Morning Glory crumpled either in disappointment that I was now ignoring the popular Vietnamese vegetable’s delectable flavor or under the weight of so much food being proffered to one lone diner. Honey and kumquat tea eased my cough and brought a smile to my lips. A kumquat tree grew at a school that I attended in the second grade. I, literally, hadn’t tasted the fruit since I was six. Twenty-two plus years later, it still was the right mix of home and innocence and mischief.
On that same street, I bit into Bahn Mi for the first time. I am the ultimate carb lover, Paleo and other nonsense diets be damned.
The tightrope walker of breads, Bahn Mi is firm but not crunchy, dense but gives willingly. It’s perfection…and an improvement on the French baguette.
That reason alone is why Hoi An should really be on the map.