Exploring Vietnam: Fresh Seafood, Fruits and Vegetables at Hoi An's Street Market

In my first post about Vietnam, I shared 13 of my favorite specialty dishes of Hoi An and talked about how wonderful it was that the ingredients they use are fresh and sourced locally. In this post, we take a step back to visit the lively street market of Hoi An, where the locals and eateries shop for fresh fruits, vegetables, and seafood.

It was fun to look back at these photos and reflect on the things we tried. We didn't eat nearly enough fruit on this trip and that was probably one of our biggest regrets. Here's a look at the different varieties of fruits we came across and how they taste, plus my favorite snapshots of the market. 

the Fruits of hoi an

Due to its location in the tropic zone, Vietnam is considered to be fruit heaven. When exploring the beautiful ancient city of Hoi An, you will find heaps of colorful tropical fruit at the street market that will captivate you.

One of the many things we learned was the fruits offered in Vietnam vary by location. For instance, when we went to visit Hanoi, the fruits sold were not nearly as good as the fruits in Hoi An due to the north side's colder climate. In fact, because Hanoi doesn't grow many fruits, a lot of it is also imported from China. I am thankful that we decided to visit Hoi An because having the opportunity to try out these specialty fruits was a pretty awesome experience.

Mangosteens (Măng cụt)

Mangosteens are considered to be an extremely rare fruit due to the level of difficulty it takes to grow in non-tropical climates. The mangosteen has gorgeous dark purple skin that tastes bitter if mistakenly eaten. Inside are nicely arranged segments of white flesh called endocarp that has a mild sweet and acidic flavor with a strawberry-like after taste. 

Langsat (bòn bon)

We both thought this was some version of a longan, but was surprised to find out that it was a completely different fruit that we've never heard of before called bòn bon. It grows in clusters, similar to grapes, on a tree from the mahogany family. The fruit contains 1 to 3 flat bitter tasting seeds that are covered with a thick, clear-white aril that tastes sweet and sour. It tastes like a combination of grape and grapefruit. 

Star Apple (vú sữa)

The translation of vú sữa literally means “milk from the breast” in Vietnamese. This fruit is grown on orchards located in central and southern parts of Vietnam. Locals use a spoon to scoop and eat it. The star apple tastes sweet and milky, very delicious. Supposedly, it tastes like breast milk, which I cannot confirm. Overall, it was very messy to eat and the juices made my fingers really sticky. 

Custard Apple (mãng cầu ta)

The fruit that is appropriately named so due to its custard-like texture. This is one of our favorite fruits because it's fragrant and sweet. The skin sort of looks like a shriveled up turtle shell and tastes like a subtle soft apple. When it's ripe, you can pull it apart to open and eat the meat inside, spitting or removing the seeds as you go. 

Water Apple (mận)

This fruit brought back memories from my first trip to Vietnam with my mom and sister. When I was introduced to the water apple as a kid, I fell in love with its super crisp and watery texture. It's like a really juicy subtle apple. The kind of juicy that will drip down your chin.

Starfruit - Fruits in Hoi An

Star Fruit (Khế)

There are tons of star fruit trees in Cam Nam Village that's lined up along the river and we picked this unripe fruit off the tree. It's called a star fruit because when you cut it sideways, it makes a star pattern. The skin is waxy and the entire fruit is edible, juicy and tastes sweet and sour. It starts off green when young, but turns yellow when ripe and ready to eat. 

the Vegetables of Hoi An

Many of the herbs and vegetables that you see here are from Tra Que, a village in Hoi An. According to Good Morning Hoi An: "150 owners and 400 farmers live here and cultivate around 20 types of vegetables and herbs such as mint leaves, lettuce, basil, coriander and broccoli. Laid on more than 40 hectares of land, the farmers do not use any pesticides nor OGM’s but only natural fertilizers and in particular some sort of alga which is located in the lagoon of Tra Que, collected by the farmers themselves by boat in the morning. 8 tons of vegetables are sold every year from Tra Que village, mostly to restaurants in Hoi An."


 the seafood of hoi an

I wish we had a place with a kitchen so we could cook with the fresh seafood we found at the fish market. The diversity of the fishes offered looked beautiful. These fish were all caught locally by fisherman late at night. 


A lady helps out a customer while she uses a pair of scissors to cut off fish heads. 

Fresh live crabs are for sale and tied with banana leaves to prevent them from pinching. 


In the next post about Vietnam, I'm sharing my favorite moments of Hoi An that are unrelated to food.

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Exploring Vietnam: The Colorful Food Culture of Hoi An - 13 Things to Eat - Hoi An Food Guide

Banh Can Trung - Hoi An
Hoi An Food Culture Life - 2014

I've been to Southern Vietnam with family as a kid and I hated it. I found myself bored to death and glued to my Gameboy Original playing Tetris. Back then, I wasn't at an age to understand or embrace my roots. Things change with age, of course, and now I'm curious about the culture more than ever. I grew up eating incredible Vietnamese food thanks to my mom's home cooking, so the thought of traveling to Vietnam to explore the food scene was very appealing.

Say Hello to Hoi An

In December, Patrick and I took a 10 day trip to Vietnam. Out of the four different places we visited in the country, Hoi An was my absolute favorite. Hoi An is a located in Central Vietnam, south of Da Nang, and was once known as a busy South-East Asian trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th century. The Old Town of Hoi An was untouched by the war, so the buildings are old and retain a lot of its architecture and history. It's no surprise that it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it's truly a magical place to visit. 

Hoi An Food Guide 2014

The Food Culture of Hoi An: As Local As It Gets

If you're anything like me and support local businesses, Hoi An is as local as it gets. The people literally live off of the land and make a living from what grows on the land. You will find that everything you eat in Hoi An is locally sourced within the city. The seafood is fished from the nearest river, the rice flour is milled from scratch using rice from the nearby fields, and the alkaline water used for making noodles and dough are from the local wells.

There are so many different specialty dishes to try in Hoi An and not nearly enough time to eat them all. The three days we spent there wasn't enough, but we tried best to eat as much we could get our mouths on. Each restaurant and street food vendor specializes in specific dishes and you may find no menu available or prices listed anywhere. 

This guide doesn't list everything I ate; it's everything I thought was unique and enjoyed eating and would recommend to anyone planning a visit to Hoi An. There are tons of things that I didn't get to try, such as cao lau (soba-like noodles with roasted pork) and com ga hoi an (chicken rice), which gives us a reason to revisit again in the future. 

The Hoi An Food Guide - 13 Things to Eat

Crab Cake - Hoi An


The first food stall we discovered was full of fried snacks. My eyes immediately locked in to the fried crab cakes, which you can see in the photo above is full of claws. I bit into it not knowing what to expect and it was juicy, meaty, and crunchy. The meat was so rich and in some sections, I had a taste of delicious crab butter  The type of crab used is a green sentinel crab, which have an edible shell and are meatier than other sentinel crabs. The flour used is made from corn from Cam Nam and new rice grown near the Thu Bon river.  

Location: Nguyen Thai Hoc, Tran Phu, and Bach Dang streets in the afternoon.

Banh Can Trung - Hoi An
Banh Can Trung - Hoi An

Bánh Can Trứng with Papaya Salad

Our first sit-down street food meal in Hoi An was delicious and the most memorable moment for me. This little food stand setup is owned by a sweet and happy looking mother-daughter duo. I was drawn to the outdoor cooking action and the large silver bowl filled with fried goodness, so we went to take a look and they kindly welcomed us in.

Their specialty is banh can trung, which are small fried turmeric rice flour pancakes with an egg inside, served with pork sausage, grated papaya, herb vegetables and nuoc cham (fish sauce).  Each banh can is fried in a mini muffin-like tray of aluminum or stainless steel to mold it into shape. It's served on a bed of herbs and lettuce, then topped with pickled grated papaya and a lovely sausage. This is one of my favorite dishes from our entire Vietnam trip because you get a bit of everything in one bite - crispy, savory, sweet and sour. 

There are different variations of banh can trung throughout the country. I'm familiar with banh khot from the south side, which are thicker pancakes that have a coconut milk batter and shrimp filling. 

Price: 10.000 vnd (~$0.50 cents a plate)

Location: Corner of Tran Phu and Hai Bai Trung

Xi Ma - Hoi An
Xi Ma - Hoi An

Xi Ma (Black Sesame Sweet Pudding)

The locals call it xi ma (pronounced: see-MAH), but I know it as che me den. My mom made this a handful of times when I was a child, so I was already familiar with the taste. It may look unappetizing like dark gruel, but it's actually a black sesame pudding that's very warm, nutty and smooth. Xi ma is made with ground black sesame seeds, mixed with raw sugar, rau ma and local well water. 

The place we went to has been operating for over 70 years using their own secret family recipe. It's owned and operated by the daughter of 100-year-old Mr. Ngo Thieu, a living legend of Hoi An. He's no longer able to run the business himself at his age, so his daughter is carrying on the tradition. They make just enough to sell out every day, so be sure to get there earlier rather than later. 

Price: 5.000 vnd (~$0.25 cents a small bowl)

Location: Nguyen Truong To Street near Hoi An Centre for Orphans and Disabled Children from 7am each day. 

Banh Xeo - Ba Le Well - Hoi An

Banh Xeo (Crispy Savory Crepes), Tom Cha Gio (Shrimp Spring Rolls), Thit Nuong (Grilled Pork), Nem Nuong (Pork Satay)

Ba Le Well Restaurant is a popular spot for both Hoi An locals and tourists alike. The menu is set and for 80.000 – 100.000 (~$4 to $5) per person for a hands on wrap-your-own rolls experience. This gets you a plate of banh xeo stuffed with bean sprouts and shrimp, shrimp spring rolls, grilled pork and pork satay, along with fresh herbs, pickled vegetables, rice paper and dipping sauce. The vegetables and herbs are all sourced from Tra Que Vegetable Village.  

Banh Xeo - Ba Le Well Restaurant
Banh Xeo - Ba Le Well Restaurant

The banh xeo served in Central and Northern Vietnam are smaller and crispier compared to what I'm familiar with in the south, which is larger and mostly crispy along the edges. The crepe is made of rice flour and turmeric, and then filled with small shrimps and bean sprouts. You eat banh xeo by wrapping it like a spring roll with vegetables and rice paper, then dipping it into nuoc tuong, a sauce made with pork liver (and pieces of pork belly), hoisin sauce, and garlic. Holy sweet livers, I gulped the remaining sauce down like the world was about to end. 

Pork Satay - Ba Le Restaurant

The shrimp spring rolls and pork skewers are eaten in the same style as a roll. The meal ends nicely with a mango flavored flan for dessert called kem flan xoai. This place is a great value and should not be missed.

Price: 80.000 – 100.000 vnd (~$4 to $5) per person for set menu

Location: 45/11 Tran Hung Dao Street

Banh Mi Cha Chien - Hoi An

Banh Mi Cha Chien (Pork Toasts)

I wish I took a photo of the old lady selling this street snack because at first - and even second glance, you would never think she was even selling anything. There was no advertisement, just a lady carrying two metal buckets filled with fried pork bread. The ground pork is seasoned Vietnamese style with salt, sugar and garlic then turned into a paste and fried to perfection. I grew up eating shrimp toasts called banh mi tom chien, which are very similar to banh mi cha chien, so it was not only a tasty treat but a nostalgic experience for me. 

Price: 7.000 vnd (~$.30)

Location: Find a lady carrying around two metal buckets and ask if she's selling banh mi cha chien (pronounced: banh-mee-cha-chi-ing).

White Rose - Hoi An

White Rose (Bánh bao bánh vạc)

It takes three years to become an expert at making banh bao and banh vac, two types of shrimp dumplings made from translucent white dough bunched up to look like a rose. White rose dumplings have become ubiquitous symbols of food in this ancient town. There is only one family in Hoi An that produces these dumplings and distributes them to all the local eateries. 

White Rose - Hoi An

The process of making white rose dumplings is extremely tedious and requires meticulous hand techniques. To make the bright white dough, rice is milled, turned into rice flour and mixed with alkaline water from a local well that's filtered up to 20 times. The dough is shaped by hand into a thin scallop to be filled with shrimp, minced pork, mushrooms, bean sprouts and onions. It is then steamed and served together, topped with crispy fried shallots and nuoc cham (fish dipping sauce). 

The ladies at the shop taught us how to make the dumplings and it was really hard. The dumplings pictured above are made by Patrick and I, which is why our dumplings don't look the prettiest. Regardless, it was still really, really good.

Price: 90.000 vnd (~$4 to $5) per person for plate

Location: 533 Hai Ba Trung Street


Cam Nam Village - Hoi An
Cam Nam - Hoi An

We walked over to Cam Nam Village, a bridge away from Hoi An's Old Quarter, to explore the local rustic food specialties of the area and we see a lane of restaurants that follow a beautiful tranquil river lined with starfruit trees. 

The most common local dishes in the area are banh dap (smashing rice paper), hen xuc banh trang (clams with crispy rice paper) and che bap (sweet corn soup). 

Banh Dap - Hoi An
Banh Dap

Banh Dap (Smashing Rice Paper)

The way you eat banh dap is to smash the rice paper, hence the translation "smashing rice paper". Banh dap is two pieces of crispy rice paper and wet rice paper (a close relative of banh cuon), combined together and smashed on the table. It's meant to be eaten in pieces then dipped into a bowl of sweet fermented fish sauce and chili called mam nem (my favorite). The sauce is made from fish that is sourced locally from Cua Dai Beach. 

Price: 8.000 vnd ($.40)

Banh Dap
Hen Xuc Banh Trang - Hoi An - Minced Clams

Hen Xuc Banh Trang (Minced Clams)

Clams are fished from Hoai River, which runs through Cam Nam village, to make this special dish (photo above). The clams are boiled and then fried with herbs, onions, spring onions, chili, ginger and peanuts. The clams were tiny, fresh, and meaty. The herbs were fragrant and added in an extra depth of flavor. It was one of my favorite dishes in Hoi An.

Price: 20.000 vnd ($1)

Che Bap - Hoi An


I've loved this dessert since I was a kid and the texture is fun to eat. Che bap is a sweet and sticky dessert made with shaved kernels of corn sourced from the village and sweet glutinous rice. It can be enjoyed at warm, cold or at room temperature. 

Price: 5.000 vnd ($.25)

Location: You can find all three items at Ba Gia Restaurant, Nguyen Tri Phuong Street

Hoi An Well

Ba Le Well

There are about 80 ancient wells located in Hoi An and Ba Le Well is the most sacred of all. The water from ancient wells is a special ingredient used in special Hoi An dishes, like xi ma (black sesame sweet pudding), banh vac (white rose dumpings), cao lau (soba-like noodles with roasted pork) and mi quang (turmeric noodles).

Supposedly, the well water is very clean and used by the locals for both personal use and as a way to make a living. There are people who deliver the water in heavy amounts by foot to restaurants, cafes, and hotels. 

Location: 45 Phan Chau Trinh Street

Vietnam Trip Recap: UP NEXT

The next Vietnam post focuses on the Hoi An market and a look at the different types of fruit we tried: Exploring Vietnam: Fresh Seafood, Fruits and Vegetables at Hoi An's Street Market

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