Cao Lau is one of the local Vietnamese dishes that noodles is the main ingredient and that is only be found in the old town of Hoi An in Quang Nam Province of Central Vietnam. Cao Lau is considered as one of Vietnam’s greatest culinary treasure as this traditional dish goes back centuries ago. Locals have different stories about the origin of this famous local dish.
Being a famous trading post in Southeast Asia before, Hoi An catered different nationalities for years. Japanese and Chinese are ones who may have a bigger influence in this ancient town as they are visible in the buildings and some of the local dishes of the province. That is why some locals believe that Cao Lau is derived from the traditional noodle dish, soba of Japan but there are people who believe that since lye water is being used to make noodles and xaxiu which are both originated from the ancient southern part of China, this should be considered as Chinese dish as well.
No matter where the dish came from, the locals of Hoi An definitely made this dish their own. Through the years, they have experimented and perfected several variation of the dish like pork, chicken, shrimp are just the usual ones we see and try on the streets.
Cao Lau is only be found in Hoi An because of one of the most important ingredient use in making the noodles, the water from the famous Ba Le which has been there since the time of Champa Kingdom. The water from the Ba Le well makes the Cao Lau noodles acquire its distinct taste. The rice noodles also mixed with ash from the trees grown on Cham Islands. Aside from the water and ashes for the noodles, the vegetable ingredients are not always available in other parts of Vietnam making it almost impossible to replicate it.
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
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
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
crackers: rice paper with black sesame seeds or replace with prawn crackers (optional)
1. Prepare the pork broth by bringing two liters of water to a boil. Add the pork, onion, salt and sugar.
2. Bring to a boil and remove the foam layer frequently. Let the broth cook for at least 2 hours on low heat.
3. 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.
4. Heat the 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.
5. 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 it with sugar or salt. Cut the meat into slices. Any leftover pork broth can be freezed for other purposes.
6. 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.
7. Put in a bowl some udon noodles and bean sprouts. Add lettuce, spring onion and fresh herbs to add flavor. Place a few slices of Xa Xiu meat on the noodles and add 1.5 soup ladles of the XaXiu broth. This noodle dish is not a noodle soup, therefore a bottom broth is enough, but compose to taste is always the best.
8. Season with sambal oelek and fresh lemon juice.
9. Top with rice crackers. Puff a rice cracker paper for about two minutes in the microwave.