Hoi An, in central Vietnam, is a place where you can very easily drop some serious coin. The streets are lined with hundreds of tailor shops, and the lure of tailor-made cloths can stitch up even the most rigourously observed budget. Whilst there I went a little overboard and got a three piece suit, two shirts and a fantastic imitation Baracuta Harrington jacket.
One thing that doesn’t cost the world however, is street food. And in Hoi An, two of Vietnam’s most famous street dishes wage a nightly battle for supremacy.
It’s a classic match up of noodles vs rice. In the red (street) corner, Cao Lau comes out punching with a heady dish of noodles, beansprouts, croutons and pork slices, while in the blue corner, Com Ga (translation: chicken rice) plays the long game with its simple yet arresting combination of flavours.
From where this commentator was sitting, it was a one-sided match from the outset. Although Cao Lau made a decent show of keeping its fists up, I found little to excite. The noodles were tired and worn out, the broth tasted brackish and the meat was of that “don’t look at it while you eat it” quality. All in all a pretty common routine, and one that Yunnan noodles run rings around.
In Com Ga however, I got the impression I was around some serious talent. The rice had been cooked in coconut milk, chicken stock and turmeric, giving it a light, delicious savory-ness that could survive all by itself if needs be. As for the chicken, it had been roughly shredded and was of top rate quality – neither bone nor gristle in sight. The plate was topped off by a generous forest of green leaves, one of which tasted incredibly like coriander but looked intiguingly unlike it.The combined effect was a studied, gentle form that took a bunch of simple flavours and ran with them all the way to the moon.
And for me that’s the true mark of a champ