Hoi An is a historic town in central Vietnam which is included on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The former harbor town of the Champa kingdom is a blend of Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese and European influences. Despite the fragile wooden architecture and the long contiguous war in Vietnam the city is well preserved.

The most traditional dish of Hoi An would be Cao lau. A dish that can not be replicated outside Hoi An. The noodles are made from rice, cleaned and mixed with water from wells of the Cham people. The most famous well is Ba Le. The rice noodles are also mixed with ash from trees grown on Cham islands. As a result, the noodles have a unique flavor, a soft but tough bite and a light yellow color. Local fresh vegetables and herbs in this dish are not always available elsewhere in Vietnam. With these ingredients, it is almost impossible to put the dish in a recipe for home use. Even in Hoi An is Cao lau not get easily.

One bright spot is the simplicity of the composition: noodles, Xa xiu meat, broth and fresh vegetables and herbs. This blend is a mixture of a touch of Japan, China and Vietnam. Cao lau noodles are similar to the Japanese udon noodles which also are thick, soft and chewy. Although udon noodles are made from wheat flour and not from rice, the structure is similar. The Xa Xiu meat is a Chinese recipe, and the broth with fresh vegetables and herbs is typical Vietnamese. The dish is finished with fried ‘crackers’ made from the same dough as the noodles. Cao lau, which means ‘high level’, reminds me of the dish Mi Quang coming from the same province of Quang Nam. The dishes show much resemblance, where pork, fresh mint and lemon juice play a leading role.

In this recipe I use the ingredients that I find delicious: pork belly, long drawn broth and lots of fresh herbs. For the crackers I use rice paper with black sesame seeds, that’s for sale in the Asian shops. They have almost the same packaging as rice paper.

Ingredients
I do not follow my recipe Xa Xiu previously posted here, but adapt it to this dish. The pork broth is in fact partly mixed with the Xa Xiu marinade, that’s why I fry the meat in a pan and not in the oven.

Xa Xiu-marinade

  • 500 g pork belly (in 2 pieces)
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp five spice powder
  • 2 tbsp rice wine (optional)
  • ground black pepper
  • 5 garlic cloves, mashed

Pork broth

  • 2 l water
  • 500 g soup pork meat (spareribs, pork knuckle, pork steaks, ribs, etc. to taste)
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 small onion

Garnish

  • dried Japanese udon noodles, according to instructions without salt
  • bean sprouts (raw or blanched to taste)
  • spring onions, sliced in rings
  • lettuce to taste
  • fresh herbs to taste: coriander, mint, Thai basil, perilla, etc.
  • fresh lemon, cut into wedges
  • sambal oelek
  • crackers: rice paper with black sesame seeds or replace with prawn crackers (optional)

Preparation

  1. Prepare the pork broth by bringing two liters of water to a boil. Add the pork, onion, salt and sugar. Bring to a boil and remove the foam layer frequently. Let the broth cook for at least 2 hours on low heat.
  2. Mix all ingredients for the meat marinade in a large bowl. Add the two pieces of pork belly, and make sure the meat is well coated with the marinade. Keep the meat covered in the refrigerator, as long as the pork stock, but at least half an hour. Overnight is even better.
  3. Heat oil in a large frying pan. Shake as many garlic from the meat and put the meat in the pan, reserving the marinade. Cook the meat until browned. Remove the meat from the pan and keep it on a plate. Add the remaining marinade in the pan and add about two soup ladles (about 100 ml) of the pig stock and bring to the boil. Put the meat back in the pan and let cook on small heat for about 40 minutes. Turn the meat frequently.
  4. Remove the meat from the pan and place on a cutting board. Put about ten soup ladles (500 mL) pork broth in the pan with Xa Xiu marinade and bring to a boil. Taste and season with sugar or salt. Cut the meat into slices. Any leftover pork broth can be freezed for other purposes.
  5. Cook the udon noodles according to instructions without adding salt. Toss the noodles in a colander but leave the water in the pan to blanch the bean sprouts shortly.
  6. Put in a bowl some udon noodles and bean sprouts. Season to taste with lettuce, spring onion and fresh herbs. Place a few slices of Xa Xiu meat on the noodles and add 1.5 soup ladles of the Xa Xiu broth. This noodle dish is not a noodle soup, therefore a bottom broth is enough, but compose to taste is always the best.
  7. Season with sambal oelek and fresh lemon juice.
  8. Delicious with rice crackers. Puff a rice cracker paper for about two minutes in the microwave.