If Hoi An had a motto, it would be “Buy Something.” “Come My Shop” would run a close second. “Where You From?” would be the town byline, but merely as a means to lead back to motto #1. Here, everyone’s a tout and the town easily puts all other Vietnamese cities to shame. Clothes, shoes, water puppets- everything’s up for sale. We never inquired about a “Serta genuine” Hoi An baby, but I have no doubts that if we had, Ben and I would be bringing the newest Chiu-Maes back to New York…at a pretty penny. Flatterers of the greatest persuasion at first, vendors quickly turned sour and pouty when we expressed disinterest in making a purchase. The truth was, by this junction of our trip, we were more than a little wary of getting fleeced by swindlers left and right. The Great Scam List was already a kilometer long and we were barely a third of our way done with our journey. While the offenders were primarily those connected to the tourism industry-tour operators, vendors, xe oms and cabbies- one unfortunate episode at a local coffee joint made us lose faith in the country as a whole. (Melodramatic? Yes, but enough was enough.) As we had done at every city, we quickly adopted a local coffee joint as our go-to caffeine fixer upper, frequenting the spot once or twice a day, everyday. No menus, only stools- this was one of our favorite rituals. Upon the third visit to “our” coffee joint in Hoi An, a worker- perky & cute as a button- quoted us double what we had paid each of the other times. We were incensed that she would cheat us out of one of the few pure, untainted experiences we had. We refused to pay her exaggerated quote and when another employee stepped in, she relented. Picturesque as Hoi An was, Ben and I were ready to move on.
Hoi An’s 2 saving graces:
1. We took a cooking class that was quite entertaining. Beyond how to make fresh rice paper and claypot eggplant, our instructor, a beanpole of a man with a dry wit about him, provided one bit of great illumination. Apparently, ”yum” translates to ”horny” in Vietnamese. Yum indeed.
2. The food was quite delicious. Hoi An is known for cau lau, a noodle supposedly made only from the Bai Le well in Hoi An. Whether that was hocus pocus or not, the dish itself was only okay. Tastier eats included:
- Mi Quang- A noodle dish from the Quang Nam province. We had the mi ca loc, noodles in a turmeric broth with a spiced fish and mi luon, fried eel noodles.
- Bup Chuoi Tron- A salad with sliced banana flower, onion, mint, pork, shrimp and roasted peanuts. We ate this at a riverside shack and washed it down with a couple of beers.
- Banh Trang Nuong- A crispy rice cracker eaten with most everything.
- Banh Mi- We had foregone all the versions up north, in anticipation for the famed sandwiches of the south. A stand by the main market made the wait well-deserved. A novel and delicious topping that we never saw in the States- shredded, dried calamari.