Vietnamese Specialty Dish – Earth to Table

Hoi An, a charming ancient city on the central coast of Vietnam, is a foodie’s haven. The menu goes way beyond the ever popular banh mi and pho. It’s time to try something new! Three local dishes I had for the first time in my life were cao lau, white rose dumplings and fried wontons (not the Chinese version). They were all delicious but it was the cao lau that I ate multiple times during my 5-day stay here. Wonder why?! It is because cao lau is truly unique to Hoi An and you can’t make this dish elsewhere without a native ingredient, unless you literally bottle it yourself.

Cao lau is a noodle dish with meat topped with fresh greens, bites of fried wonton, and the desired amount of spicy sauce. The noodles have a unique taste and a chewy texture. These flat noodles are yellowish and much denser than the average rice noodles because they are made with the water from Ba Le Well, the town’s ancient Cham water source. Cao lau is as core to the diet of the Hoi An people as croissants are to the French. You can find a bowl of Cao lau at every street corner, but the best was found at Miss Ly’s restaurant.

I was so impressed by this true example of the “earth-to-table” practice continuing for centuries in Hoi An! Following google maps, I set out to find this well. A posted sign pointed me down a little alley leading to the Ba Le Well.

The Ba Le well is a cold water well that is authentically preserved. It was built around the 10th century. It was constructed specifically as a vertical prism with a square bottom and built with big bricks. The well bottom was paved with a frame of four thick iron-wood boards that have two functions of protecting its bottom and filtering its water. Apparently the local inhabitants still use its water for their daily activities, as well as for cooking Hoi An specialties. 


Mud Baths in Vietnam

Taking a private mud bath is a luxury everyone can afford in Vietnam! Today, I went to i-resort in Nha Trang, located in the south central coast of Vietnam for my first soak in the mud. Most mud baths are commonly shared with others so you got to wonder about the sanitation of this communal practice. I was thrilled when I discovered that i-resort offers individual bath tubs that are built into the hillside, and each tub is filled with wet mud from a hose right before your soak. Now I can relax knowing the mud is clean!

For 350,000 dongs (approx. $15 US), you get 20 minutes in your own private warm mud bath and unlimited use the hot mineral pools. The amenities of the hot springs resort are similar to those in Europe. The use of a locker and a towel are included in your fee.

There’s a spa onsite if you wish to book a massage. Of course, I couldn’t resist a 50-minute full body massage for 300,00 dongs (approx. $13). The spa was beautiful with tropical decor and the quality of the massage far exceeded my expectation. Prior to my massage, I was even offered a lemongrass orange scented steam that was built into the shower inside the treatment room. When in Asia, you just can’t judge the quality by the price alone.

Like most firsts, my mud bath in Vietnam will always be special and memorable. This positive experience will lead me to seek out more bath muds during my travels to enrich my spa experience collection.