Chewy noodles, smoky pork, crisp greens, crunchy croutons and refreshing bean sprouts: it may sound like an odd medley, but together these ingredients compose one of Vietnam’s most iconic dishes, also its most mysterious dish Cau Lau.
Cao lau consists of thick rice noodles, pieces of barbecued pork, greens and crunchy croutons. The pork is sliced thin and cooked in the traditional Chinese method known as char siu. In addition to adding greens on top of the dish, it’s also common to add bean sprouts, which together with the greens adds a burst of freshness and crisp texture to the chewy noodles and meaty pork.The final touch is the crunch of the croutons, which are made from dried cao lau noodles.
Cao lau noodles are said to be made using only water from one ancient well in Hoi An called Ba Le well. Tucked inconspicuously in an alley, however, wedged right up against a house, the well looks like nothing special and could be easily missed if you’re not looking for it. This obscurity makes the well all the more mystical, adding to the esoteric quality of the noodles made with its water.
In addition to the water for cao lau noodles supposedly coming from this one, special well, the water is also supposed to be mixed with a specific type of ash to create a lye solution. The ash is said to come from a type of tree found on the Cham islands, which are off the coast of Hoi An.
The precise process of making cao lau noodles also sets them apart. The recipe is a secret, known only to a few families in Hoi An ,still largely protected ,at least enough to keep the noodles a unique specialty that you can’t easily find outside of Hoi An.