Cao Lầu

Cao lầu is a Vietnamese noodle dish unique to Hoi An Ancient Town, consisting of chewy noodles, pork or shrimp, and vegetables.

Lastest Updated January 6, 2024
Verified by A-Z Cuisines Team
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Fact: Cao lầu was one of Anthony Bourdain’s favorite foods during his trip to Hoi An.

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Basic Information

Cao Lầu: Basic Information

Pronunciation

/cow lao/

Alternative Name(s)

No

Dish Type

Dry noodle dishes, rice dishes.

Course

Main Course

Mealtime

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Popular Variations

Cao lầu made with braised shrimp.
Origin and Region

Cao Lầu: Origin and Region

Origin

Vietnam

Continent’s Region

Southeast Asia

Country’s Region

Central Vietnam

Associated Region

Hoi An City, Quang Nam Province
Vietnam Map
Ingredients and Preparation

Cao Lầu: Ingredients and Preparation

Main Ingredients

Rice noodles, pork or shrimp, bean sprouts, herbs, and pork bone broth (optional)

Main Cooking Method

Boiling and braising or pan-frying

Preparation Process

  1. Boiling the rice noodles
  2. Preparing the pork bone broth (optional)
  3. Marinating the pork and then braising or frying it
  4. Assembling cao lầu
A Deep Dive

Cao Lầu: A Deep Dive

Cultural Significance

Local delicacy unique to Hoi An

Taste

Savory

Texture

Chewy rice noodles, tender meat, crunchy vegetables.

Aroma

Rich

Color

Various colors, such as yellow, green, reddish-brown, etc.

Serving Style

In a bowl and eaten with chopsticks

Serving Temperature

Warm

Accompaniment

Additional herbs

Occasions

On any occasions

Seasons

Year-round

Special Diets

Gluten-free

Calories

Unspecified

Popularity

Central Vietnam

Popular Similar Dishes

  1. Mì Quảng
  2. Udon

Popular Dining Area

Cao lầu eateries in Hoi An

Cao lầu is a traditional Vietnamese noodle dish native to Hoi An, a famous city in Quang Nam Province, Central Vietnam.

Cao Lau Overview

It is a combination of dishes from various Asian cuisines and prepared exclusively with local ingredients, making it a distinct local delicacy.

Read on, and you will discover many wonderful facts about this noodle dish, such as its history and main ingredients.

I will also go into the upsides and downsides of eating cao lầu and suggest popular eateries for eating it in Hoi An. Lastly, I will answer popular questions about cao lầu and recommend similar dishes.

Key Points

  • Cao lầu is a Vietnamese noodle dish and a specialty of Hoi An in Quang Nam province.
  • Cao lầu first appeared in the 17th century as a mix of Vietnamese, Japanese, and Chinese cuisines.
  • Cao lầu means “high story,” as it was originally enjoyed in the upper story of local houses.
  • The main ingredients of cao lầu are lye-soaked rice noodles, braised pork or shrimp, herbs, and minimal broth.
  • Authentic cao lầu only uses locally sourced ingredients.

Cao Lầu Images

What Is the History of Cao Lầu?

Cao lầu emerged in the 17th century when Hoi An was a bustling trade city. Many Chinese and Japanese merchants resided in the city, bringing with them recipes from their home countries. The mingling of Chinese and Japanese cooking with local ingredients eventually resulted in cao lầu.

This name is literally “high story,” as people usually enjoyed it at the upper story of a house or eatery in the past. Today, cao lầu is savored in more kinds of settings, from roadside food stalls to sit-down restaurants.

A reason behind the enduring popularity of cao lầu is the use of local ingredients, which distinguishes it from many other Vietnamese noodle dishes.

What Is Cao Lầu Made of?

Traditional cao lầu has the following 5 ingredients:

ingredientsDescription
Rice noodlesMade from rice flour soaked in lye water

Have a chewy, springy texture and a yellow or grayish-brown color

The lye water should be made from the ashes of plants harvested from the
nearby Cham Islands

Use water taken from the ancient Ba Le well within Hoi An

Can be cut into squares and deep-fried to add to the finished dish
PorkMarinated in five-spice powder, soy sauce, and various condiments like char siu (Cantonese pork BBQ)

Braised until flavorful

Sometimes replaced with shrimp
BrothCao lầu only uses a small amount of broth

The traditional version uses the viscous juice from the braised pork

The modern version sometimes features pork bone broth
Herbs and greensBean sprouts, lettuce, perilla, lemon basil, cilantro, Vietnamese coriander, cilantro, water mint, mustard greens, common knotgrass, heartleaf, chrysanthemum greens

Often sourced from the nearby Tra Que village
Add-onsDeep-fried cao lầu noodle squares, deep-fried pork rinds, chili peppers

The use of local ingredients is a huge plus for cao lầu, but it also poses several challenges.

Pros and Cons of Eating Cao Lầu

Cao lầu has the following advantages and disadvantages.

Pros

  • Diverse flavors and textures: Cao lầu features a variety of ingredients, each contributing its own flavor and texture to create a rich culinary experience.
  • Cultural significance: Cao lầu is an iconic dish of Hoi An, an ancient town known for its rich heritage.
  • Premium ingredients: This Hoi An emphasizes local ingredients, which increases the quality of the dish and deepens its connection with the regional cuisine.
  • Nutritional value: Thanks to its diverse ingredients, cao lầu offers various essential nutrients, such as protein, carbs, fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants.

Cons

  • Availability: Authentic cao lầu is only available in Hoi An. The emphasis on local ingredients makes preparing this dish at home a challenge.
  • Dietary restrictions: Traditional cao lầu isn’t suitable for people on a vegan or vegetarian diet. In addition, the use of pork makes it a non-halal dish.
  • Consistency: The taste and quality of cao lầu can vary from one vendor to another, so the experience might not always be consistent.

To help you overcome the challenge of finding suitable places to try cao lầu, I will give some recommendations on the best cao lầu destinations in Hoi An.

Where to Try Cao Lầu in Hoi An?

Visit the following 4 eateries for the best cao lầu experience:

In Hoi An

Cao lầu Bá Lễ
Address: 45/3 Tran Hung Dao Street, Minh An Ward, Hoi An City, Quang Nam province
Opening hours: 11 AM – 9:30 PM on weekdays, 7:30 AM – 9:30 PM on weekends
Cao lầu Không Gian Xanh
Address: 687 Hai Ba Trung Street, Minh An Ward, Hoi An City, Quang Nam province
Opening hours: 8 AM – 8:30 PM every day
Cao lầu Thanh
Address: 26 Thai Phien Street, Minh An Ward, Hoi An City, Quang Nam province
Opening hours: 7 AM – 7 PM every day
Cao lầu Hội An Trung Bắc
Address: 87 Tran Phu Street, Minh An Ward, Hoi An City, Quang Nam province
Opening hours: 9 AM – 9 PM every day

Do you still have questions about cao lầu? Check out the FAQs section to put them to rest once and for all.

Cao Lầu FAQs

Yes, traditional cao lầu is a gluten-free dish. However, some vendors mix wheat flour into the rice flour dough for the noodles, so you should ask the vendor about the ingredients to make sure.

Cao lầu differs from mì Quảng in terms of origin, noodles, broth, and toppings. Cao lầu is native to Hội An, features thick and chewy rice noodles, has very little broth, and contains toppings made from local ingredients.

By contrast, mì Quảng is a specialty of the Quang Nam province and Đà Nẵng city, has flat and thin rice noodles, contains relatively more broth, and is more flexible in terms of toppings.

Yes, some eateries sell cao lầu made without pork or shrimp, but this version is less popular than non-vegetarian cao lầu.

Yes, cao lầu noodles are comparable to udon noodles in terms of color, shape, and texture. However, cao lầu noodles are made from rice flour, whereas wheat flour is the main ingredient of udon noodles.

Similar Dishes of Cao Lầu

Mi Quang

Mì quảng is a noodle soup from Vietnam originating from the Quang Nam province, made with wide rice noodles, savory broth, herbs, and meat.

Truc Tran (Kris)

Truc Tran (Kris)

Senior Food Editor

Expertise

Home Cooking, Meal Planning, Recipe Development, Baking and Pastry, Food Editor, Cooking-video Maker, Vietnamese Food Evaluation Expert

Education

  • Hospitality (Commercial Cookery) at TasTAFE
  • Culinary Arts at Kendall College (Australia Branch in Sydney)
  • Vietnamese Cuisine Head Chef at HNAAu School (Vietnam, International Joint Training Program)

Truc Tran (Kris), an experienced food writer and editor, is great at exploring and describing global cuisines, from simple street food to fancy dining. In her writing, she skillfully mixes different flavors, cooking methods, and culinary traditions, showing the unique character of various cultures through their food and drinks. On azcuisines.com, Kris highlights her knowledge, especially in Asian cuisine and worldwide traditional dishes.

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