Cao lau - the essence of Hoi An food
The reason why a specialty in Hoi An named Cao Lau is interesting: Hoi An was used to be an international ports and there were many merchants working in the town. They chose to have lunch or dinner on the high storey restaurant to look after their shops. The Vietnamese name: Cao Lầu means “High storey” in English. Cao Lau does not taste like any other Vietnamese dish because it was often used to serve foreign visitors and may be affected by their tastes. No one knows who invented this dish and, until now, the origin of Cao Lau is still a mystery.
Cao Lau comprises of the signature Cao Lầu noodles, slices of barbecue pork, pork crackling, bean sprouts, lettuce and herbs, it is then finished with a spoonful of stock. Cao lau noodles are carefully made from local fresh rice. The dish cannot be imitated outside of the town because the water used in the dish must be drawn from a well in the nearby Ba Le well which is dug by the Cham people, which is at the end of an alley opposite 35 Phan Chau Trinh Street.
The lye solution used to prepare the noodles comes from trees grown on Cham Island. This water is then mixed with ashes from certain trees, to give it its particular yellow tinge and slightly firm texture. The noodles will therefore be soft, enduring and flavored with special sweet-smelling additives.
The meat used to prepare the Cao lau must be pork loin or trotter. The pork is fried in a marinade and then roasted for 1 hour. Next, fish sauce, soy sauce, garlic, sugar, salt & pepper, thin crispy croutons, vegetables, bean sprouts and spices are thrown in, and after adding the noodles and herbs the dish is done. The dry pancakes used must be thick and have a lot of sesame. Greasy coconut essence and bitter green cabbage are also indispensable
Depending on the cook, an array of fresh locally grown mixed greens will be piled upon or beside the pork - fragrant mint, basil, Vietnamese fish leaf, rice paddy herb, crisp lettuce, sometimes coriander from Tra Que village. Crunchy deep-fried squares of cao lau dough are sprinkled on top, while secreted beneath the noodles will be crispy bean sprouts.
The next will be to combine all the ingredients to ensure the chili jam and sweet pungent broth, created from the pork fat juices, that has been drizzled over the noodles, is thoroughly mixed through. After the noodles, it’s the broth and pork that truly sets one Cao Lau apart from the next.