The UNESCO World Heritage listed town of Hoi An is known for its centuries-old streets, lanterns, tailors, Chinese temples, beaches and the Hoai River, which snakes its way through the emerald patchwork of paddy fields before discharging itself into the ocean.
But one equally important, but often overlooked cultural foundation is starting to gain traction with those in the know. The food from this central coast tourist centre is winning a reputation as some of the best in the country; and some of the cheapest.
Cam Nam Village, just a stones throw from the heart of Hoi An’s Old Quarter, typifies the sort of gastronomical experience available to people not afraid of straying from the uninspired menus of the lollipop cute cafes dotting the river’s banks.
This tranquil spot, at the lower section of the river, is home to dozens of little restaurants. The one thing they all have in common is that they all serve great local rustic fare.
Three of the most common local dishes served up to punters are: banh dap (smashing rice paper), hen xuc banh trang (clams served with crispy rice paper) and che bap (sweet corn soup).
Banh dap or smashing rice paper derives its name from the action needed to produce the dish. It is made from two pieces of rice paper – the first piece is crispy, the second is wet. To join them together, they must be smashed on to the table.
The two freshly joined pieces are then draped in oil cooked with onions and served with nuoc mam, a pungent fish sauce.
That’s it. A seemingly simple rice paper with contrary tastes: sweet and salty, crispy and soft.
Hen xuc banh trang is a combination of clams and crispy rice paper. The clams are fished up from the Hoai River, which runs through Cam Nam village.
The clams are boiled and then fried with dozens of fragrant vegetables and spices, including onion, spring onion, pepper, chilli, ginger, sugar water and peanuts.
When the clams are ready, crispy rice paper is set on the table, which is also used as a spoon for the dish.
Finally the desert: che bap (sweet corn soup). Hoi An’s sweet and sticky corn is perfect for this soup. Locals swear that one bowl is not enough and visitors that return are the first in line, ready for another helping.
Whether this is true or not is a matter of conjecture. What is true, is that no trip to Hoi An is truly complete without sampling the culinary spectacles that small village’s like Cam Nam have to offer.