Cao lau - the pride of Hoi An's cuisine

By DOAN HOANG – PHAN ANH |

(QNO) - When stopping your travelling steps in Hoi An Ancient Town, may be many of you have a times to taste Cao lau specialty. Is it right?

Talking about Hoi An’s dishes, we can not ignore Cao Lau. Walking around this ancient town on the chilly New Year’s days, it is not hard for you to see the ancient restaurants with waitresses in dark coloured Ao Dai and the name “Cao lau” in the menu presented on the front door. Cao lau has been mentioned as the typical dish creating the culinary soul as an ancient cultural feature of Hoi An city today...

So, what is Cao lau? It is cooked from yellow noodles, pork, shrimp and raw vegetables. Like Mi Quang (Quang Noodles), Cao lau is just used with a little of broth. The special feature of Cao lau is the fresh yellow noddles which is mixed with the ash from cajuput tree  from Cham Island.

The origin of the name “Cao lau”

According to a Hoa (Chinese) man spending a very long time in Hoi An, Cao lau has appeared in this ancient town since 17th century when Hoi An port was opened and the  Nguyen Lord permitted the foreign merchant ships to anchor for goods exchange. Although the Japanese did their business in Hoi An first, the Chinese have longest stayed here.

Cao lau is neither Bun (rice vermicelli) nor Pho (noodle soup). This speciality is a mixed dish, only appears in Hoi An, Da Nang and Hue.  

The so-called “Cao Lau” is always a “question mark” for the tourists who come to visit Hoi An ancient town. Cao Lau does not come from China nor Japan. This dish is a combination of dishes from many countries. This strange name probably derived from the Chinese means “delicacy”. The rich going to restaurants in Hoi An used to sit on the upstair and ask this dish. Gradually it is abbreviated as “Cao lau”.

Culinary soul in the ancient town

Despite some similarities to Quang noodles, Cao Lau is prepared more elaborately. Rice used to make noodles must be soaked in the ash water so that the noodles will be yellow and delicious. The water used to grind rice is taken form Ba Le well, which is famous for its fresh water. Fried pigskin or dried Cao lau are also used to make the dish more attractive and delicious. Cao Lau is used with thinly-sliced pork slices, fried pork fat, sauce and scraps but little broth. Some roasted peanut is added to help the dish more sapid.

The taste of Cao Lau is a little faded when it is cooked outside Hoi An ancient town. Today, thanks to its fame, Hoi An’s Cao Lau makes an oversea journey to France, the UK, Australia… and takes a domestic trip to Saigon, Quang Ngai, Da Nang… However, there is no place where Cao Lau is as delicious as in Hoi An.

By DOAN HOANG – PHAN ANH