Hoi An is a smallish city in Central Vietnam on the South China Sea coast and along the Thu Bon River. We were here in late 2001 and remembered a lovely city but were honestly unprepared for how much we would enjoy it this time around. Whether the city has just gotten a lot more beautiful in these 13 years or we had just not appreciated it enough I can’t say, but this is a seriously beautiful place.
Today the city is vibrant, beautiful, atmospheric, and one of the wealthiest cities in the country. For tourists it’s particularly notable as a center of custom tailoring; there are hundreds and hundreds of shops throughout the city that promise the best clothes you’ll ever have. We fell for that in 2001, but these days I don’t really need any bespoke T-shirts. For us, the treat was the wonderful food we found.
One of the best meals we’ve ever had – anywhere, any time, at any price – was a $23 lunch at a little place called Baby Mustard a couple kilometers outside Hoi An. It’s set right next to a large community garden and after we ordered salads to start the meal we saw a woman out snipping greens from the garden. That’s fresh!
On a scale of 1-10, we thought both our salads were 10s. Then we got our main dishes, fish for me and chicken for Mark. Again, two home runs. They were unbelievable. All in a very simple bamboo-constructed open air dining area with the simplest kitchen you can imagine. Just great, local produce with lots of garlic, lemongrass, mint, and other Vietnamese herbs and spices.
Part of what we liked about the experience was the 10- or 15-minute bike ride (on bikes provided by our hotel) out past rice fields to the restaurant. So the next day we got back on our bikes and headed back out there. Now, our experience is that going back to a great restaurant experience is usually disappointing; it’s never as good the second time. Not so with Baby Mustard; our dishes again were just fantastic.
Dinners in town were great, too, though it would be unfair to compare them to those lunches. And we found a great bar – Q Bar – where the bartender made great Manhattans without any lessons or cues from us. We compared that to the place we went the first night where the bartender made us martinis and, after shaking the drink poured the whole thing, ice and all, into the martini glasses. He did remember to put olives in the drink, but when he delivered them we saw that they were black olives. That’s just sad.
A beautiful city, great food, a beautiful bar; what else can you ask for? Oh yeah, we had a really nice hotel, too, just opened a couple months ago, with a beautiful pool for a little afternoon relaxation. So Hoi An was a hit.