During a recent trip to Vietnam I sought out this dish unique to Hoi An. I’d tried it first on trip to South East Asia in my 20s and never forgot how delicious it is. I managed to source the recipe below, published for prosperity.
Water source: In Hội An Faifo and surroundings such as Cẩm Khê, there still remain old square wells that the Cham people dug from hundreds of years ago. Water from these wells is used for drinking and cooking, and it has a unique flavor. The most famous well is Well Bá Lễ.
Lye solution: Lye is made from ashes of trees. Different trees give different lye solutions. This particular lye solution that is used to make cao lầu’s noodle is from “tro” tree grown in Cham Island nearby.
Rice: The rice to make cao lầu’s noodle is of a local rice variety. The rice used is neither freshly harvested nor too aged. The rice is washed, soaked in Hội An’s well water and lye solution. After that the soaked rice is ground into a thick paste, poured into cotton bags to drain excess water. The paste becomes dough, and is kneaded. The thin dough is briefly steamed, cut into strings, and steamed again until the noodle becomes completely cooked. The noodle is left in open air for its surface to dry. When used, the noodle is blanched briefly in hot water. Cao lầu’s noodle has more texture and doesn’t have a sour flavor of regular rice noodle.
Xá xíu (Translator: This is Vietnamese pronunciation of Chinese barbecue pork, char siu): About 500g lean pork butt, cut to about 5cm thick. Mixture: 5g Chinese five-spice powder + 1/2 teaspoon salt + 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper + 1 tablespoon minced garlic + 2 tablespoons soy sauce. Marinate the pork in the mixture for 40 minutes. Heat a small pot in low heat, add 2 tablespoons cooking oil, and pan fry the pork a little, then add boiling water to cover the meat. You can also use coconut juice instead of water. Simmer until the liquid is reduced to little remaining. The pork should now be tender. When used, slice it into thin pieces.
Stock: Cook 500g pork bones in 3 liters of water and 100 typo error? dried shallots. Simmer and skim the fat often until about 2.5 liters stock is left. Remove the bones and shallot from the stock. Season the stock with salt and MSG Oriental food, of course! to taste.
Pork rind: Select the thinnest pork skin, and remove all the fat. Cut the skin to small pieces of about 2 cm wide, and marinate for 30 minutes in the same kind of mixture you use to make xá xíu. Deep fry in high heat? the pork rind until crispy. Let the pork rind drain.
Herb: Húng lủi Mentha aquatica L.; water mint, cut to short stems. Chive, minced. Cilantro also.
Presentation: Put noodle and water mint in a bowl. Place slices of xá xíu on top. Throw in some pork rind and minced chive. Pour just a litte of the stock into the bowl. Also throw in some cilantro on top. Put a dash of pepper.
New modifications: Some people now add dry shrimp, dry squid in the soup stock to add more flavor with a ratio of 10g dry squid or shrimp and 1/2 liter of water. Some also use chicken stock instead, but this gives different flavor. Some add more varieties of herb, minced. Uncooked bean sprout, roasted peanut, rice crackers that are broken in small pieces…are also used. Some even use boiled chicken meat cut into squares, sauteed shrimp. Some cao lầu noodle has a deep yellow color of tumeric, and is only seen in Saigon. Translator note: Lye solution is widely used in Chinese yellow wheat noodle to make tougher texture.