As we stroll around town, talking, laughing with our friends, and getting caught up on the last few days since we hung out in Da Lat, it is quickly becoming apparent to me that I am going to feel right at home in Hội An. It's my kind of town, seeming to be culturally rich in every way. Also, I want to buy everything in Hội An's shops and marketplace!
We rarely purchase souvenirs for ourselves, but I am obviously the target market for all of the beautiful pottery, handmade lanterns, small lidded containers carved out of fragrant cinnamon bark, silk scarves in rich jewel tones, packets of loose-leaf tea with names like "nothingness" and "precious", and hand-sewn clothing.
I might just cave for one of these hand-carved bamboo root faces. I love how hilariously expressive the old bearded guys are. They crack me up—I have to resist the urge to grab each one, ready to speak for it spontaneously with the voice and personality I imagine it to have.
Evening arrives and we're still wandering around town, no longer ogling the lovely things for sale in every shop, but instead poking our heads into restaurants to see what kinds of food they offer. I am thrilled to learn that Hội An has a food culture filled with specialties all its own.
We settle on an inexpensive restaurant that advertises the local fare. The most well known dishes here are the white rose, a tiny teamed shrimp dumpling, and a bowl of thick, doughey noodles called Cao Lau.
The Cao Lau, or noodles with pork slices, bean sprouts, and herbs are perhaps the most special, as only the well water in Hội An creates these high quality noodles.Specialty Foods of Hue and Hội An
Tonight we opt for a third specialty: Hội An wontons. These crispy fried pieces of dough are topped with a sweet and sour medley of pineapple, shrimp, pork, and caramelized onions, garnished with a green parsley. The unusual combination of flavors is really, really good. We will definitely be trying our hand at recreating this dish back home.
To wash down our wontons, we order glasses of the impossibly cheap "fresh beer", a local, on-tap brew that varies from place to place. Once our dinner is over and our beers consumed, we head back out on the town for a night of "bar hopping." Wild partiers that we are, we're in search of strong cups of hot chocolate. And dessert.
Leaving our last café in a satisfied daze, we can scarcely believe how utterly whimsical and picturesque this town is. Old alleyways and antique homes are now lit by marvelous fairytale lanterns that hang from trees and along garlands strung across the street. Lantern shops glow especially bright, like Christmas trees covered in colored lights and jewel-like baubles.
What a vibrant town!