Unraveling Hoi An’s Textures: A Hoi An Photographer Exploration
When the renowned Lonely Planet guidebook Vietnam, Laos & Cambodia first put Hoi An on the backpacker’s grand Southeast Asia tour in 1991, the town was rundown and sleepy. There was one hotel and a handful of makeshift eateries, serving up the local specialties.
Hoi An has since exploded into a tourist town with cheap and midrange hotels, a glut of Western-oriented Vietnamese restaurants, and tailor shops that cater to the whims of a booming travel industry. The streets throng with visitors, and the air fills with classical music (Eine Kleine Nachtmusik is a popular standard), and the heady scent of incense.
Despite the town’s many changes, some traditions remain. A family in the Hoi An historic center has, for generations, maintained a monopoly on making cao lau, six-inch-long rectangular rice noodles that look like a thicker, shorter version of fettuccine and taste like a cross between fried pork and steamed mung beans. The noodles are the ultimate expression of culinary terroir, and the recipe is sacred.
The noodles are made with water from the Ba Le well, and an entire mythology has accrued around the well’s unique properties. The water is believed to have healing powers, and the sand at the bottom of the well is said to contain the souls of the dead. This combination of organic texture and a spiritual connection with the past is unique in Vietnam, where most dishes are merely a combination of ingredients.
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