Cao Lầu, the noodle dish you can’t miss when exploring Hoi An, the enchanting ancient town nestled in central Vietnam.

Whipping up Cao Lầu abroad is quite a challenge, as it calls for specific local ingredients from Hội An. However, I’m determined to replicate its unique flavor in my Asian kitchen in Germany, giving it my all.

Cao Lau noodles

🙋‍♀️ What is Cao Lầu?

In Vietnamese, “Cao” signifies “high” or “upper,” and “Lầu” translates to “floor.” Thus, Cao Lầu directly translates to the “upper floor,” reflecting the tradition of relishing this dish on elevated levels within Hoi An’s ancient dwellings.

This allows diners to indulge in both delectable cuisine and panoramic views of the town.

Cao Lau Noodles in Hoi An
Cao Lầu Noodles in Hội An

In the century 17th, Hội An used to be a merchant hub under the rule of Nguyễn lords. It was once an important trading port on the South China Sea, attracting merchants from Europe, China, India, and Japan for trade.

Hoi An Ancient Town

This historical significance is reflected in Hội An’s cuisine, which bears influences from China and Japan with some unique dishes like Cao Lầu, Mì Quảng (Quang-style noodles), Rose Dumplings, Bánh Tổ (Nian Gao or Chinese sweet rice cake), and Chè Mè Đen (sweet black sesame soup).

To me, Cao Lầu carries a subtle Japanese influence, evident in its thick noodles reminiscent of Udon noodles and the 5-spice pork (Thịt Xíu) strikingly similar to Japanese Chashu Pork . (Japanese Chashu Pork differs from Chinese Char Siu Pork.)

Locals have skillfully merged foreign influences with indigenous components like salad and herbs sourced from Trà Quế Village—a serene, verdant farming enclave. The outcome is a distinctive dish that is simply a must-try when visiting Hội An.

🍜 Ingredients

Living in Germany gives a challenge when I would like to recreate an authentic Cao Lầu, but I’ve been determined to adapt, and the results are surprisingly satisfying.

Cao Lau noodles

Noodles and Crispy Crackers: If you try Cao Lầu in Hoi An, you will find that they use local thick noodles for the dish and also top it with deep-fried crackers (bánh ram).

Both are made from rice and lye water. Locals say the lye water should be made from the ashes of certain plants from the nearby Cham islands and Ba Le well in Hoi An, but I guess it’s just from ancient times.

  • You could substitute the noodles with udon noodles. Sometimes I use egg noodles, and I even prefer this way since the egg noodles absorb the sauce better. In this case, the dish is quite similar to Vietnamese dry noodles (Mì Khô).
  • For the crackers, I use deep-fried wonton wrappers, and I do love them.

Pork: regularly people use ham cuts, but pork belly and pork shoulder also work well. For this recipe, I used pork belly.

5-spice powder: This is an essential ingredient for the marinade. I recommend using Vietnamese 5-spice powder, as the Chinese version may have slight differences.

Shallots & garlic: These aromatics enhance the pork’s flavor nicely. You could use garlic and onion powder also.

Annatto oil: it is used to enhance the color of the pork. You could replace it with paprika powder and cooking oil.

Soy sauce: Since this dish is influenced by Japan and China, we use soy sauce instead of fish sauce for the marinade. Any type of light soy sauce will work fine.

Sugar & Chicken Powder: A touch of sugar and chicken powder helps enhance the marinade’s flavors.

Salads and herbs:

  • For the salad and herb mix, gather lettuce, baby mustard greens, cucumber, and bean sprouts (use what you have on hand).
  • You will also need some Asian herbs such as mint or peppermint (must-have), Thai basil, cilantro, and Shiso (purple perilla, lá tía tô).
  • For a bit of spice, incorporate green chili peppers like jalapeño or Korean green chili peppers. And of course, don’t forget the lime for a refreshing touch.

📝 Instructions

Marinating the Pork

  • In a bowl, combine the sugar, chicken powder, five spice powder, minced garlic, minced shallot, soy sauce, and annatto oil (or cooking oil and paprika powder) to create the marinade.
  • Rub the pork thoroughly with the marinade, ensuring it is evenly coated. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours, or preferably overnight.
  • You could cut the pork into 2-3 inch (5-7cm) thick strips or chunks to reduce the marinating time. Don’t trim the fat on the pork.
Marinate the pork in a bowl.
Marinate the pork in a bowl.

Cooking the Pork

  • In a pot or wok, heat some cooking oil over medium-high heat. Scrape off any garlic and shallot clinging to the meat.
  • Brown the marinated pork until it achieves a golden-brown color on all sides.
  • Add any remaining marinade and enough water to just cover the pork. Cover the pot with a lid and reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer for about 40-45 minutes.
  • After 40-45 minutes, remove half of the sauce and transfer it to another pot. Continue simmering the pork until the remaining sauce thickens and forms a delicious glaze.
Brown the pork.
Brown the pork.
Simmer the pork.
The braised pork for Cao Lầu.
  • Once the pork is cooked, remove it from the pot and allow it to rest for about 10 minutes before slicing.
  • Adjust the flavor of the reserved sauce with additional soy sauce and sugar to taste. Cook over low heat until all ingredients are fully dissolved. This sauce will be used for the noodles.

Preparing the Noodles, Crackers, and Vegetables

  • Cook the udon noodles (or egg noodles) according to the instructions on the package. Once cooked, drain them well.
  • Cut the wonton wrappers into quarters. Deep-fry them until golden and crispy, taking care not to burn them.
Deep-fry the wonton wrappers.
  • Thoroughly wash and drain the vegetables and herbs. Shred the lettuce into thin strips.

Assembling

  • Place the cooked noodles in a serving bowl. Arrange the vegetables, herbs, and sliced pork over the noodles.
  • Top the bowl with fried wonton wrappers. Pour the prepared sauce over the ingredients.
  • When eating, mix all the ingredients together. Feel free to add a squeeze of lime or serve with chili, Vietnamese chili oil or Hoi An chili sauce if you prefer a spicy kick.
Place the pork and the crackers over the noodles.
Cao Lau noodles

🥢 Indulge in more authentic and delicious Vietnamese recipes

Banh Cuon (Vietnamese steamed rolls)

Bánh Cuốn (Vietnamese Steamed Rice Rolls)

Bánh Cuốn, the Vietnamese counterpart of Chinese Cheung Fun, stands as a staple breakfast dish in Vietnam, alongside favorites like Bánh Mì, Phở, and Bún Bò Huế.

Gluten-free and boasting a silky texture, it’s surprisingly easy to prepare at home with just a nonstick skillet.

Bánh Xèo - Vietnamese sizzling crepes with shrimp, pork, and mung bean sprouts, served with fresh herbs and dipping sauce.

Bánh Xèo (Vietnamese Sizzling Pancakes)

Bánh Xèo (Sizzling Pancakes) are savory and crispy crepes cherished in Southern and Central Vietnam. They share a kinship with Bánh Khọt, the mini pancakes.

This recipe is gluten-free and doesn’t call for premixed Bánh Xèo flour.

To complete the dish, don’t overlook Nước Chấm (dipping fish sauce) and Đồ Chua (pickled vegetables).

Thank you for trying my recipe!! Don’t forget to stay in touch with me on InstagramFacebookPinterest, and YouTube 🥰.

Cao Lau noodles

Cao Lầu (Hoi An’s Braised Pork Noodle Bowl)

6b91f43e6abb4ea3ddc4c83fa8e3d4ad?s=30&d=mm&r=gCielle
Cao Lầu, the thick noodle bowl featuring 5-spice braised pork, is a must-try delicacy when exploring the enchanting Hoi An ancient town in central Vietnam. Preparing Cao Lầu outside Vietnam is a challenge; however, I'm dedicated to capturing its essence in my kitchen in Germany.
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 2 hours
Cook Time 1 hour
Course Main Course
Cuisine Vietnamese
Servings 2 people

Ingredients
  

5-spice Pork (Thịt Xíu)

  • 1 pound pork belly (ham cuts, pork butt, pork shoulder) (450g)
  • 3 tbsp all-purpose soy sauce (to your taste)
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar (to your taste)
  • 1 tsp chicken powder (to your taste)
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic (or 1 tsp garlic powder)
  • 1 tbsp minced shallot (or 1 tsp onion powder)
  • 1 tsp five-spice powder (Vietnamese five-spice powder works best)
  • 2 tbsp annatto oil (or 2tbsp cooking oil + 1/2 tbsp paprika powder)
  • 1 cup water (250ml)

Other Ingredients

  • Cao Lầu Dry Noodles (substituted with Udon Noodles or Egg Noodles)
  • Cao Lầu Crackers (Bánh Ram) (substituted with Wonton Wrappers)
  • Vegetables (lettuce, baby mustard greens, mung bean sprouts, cucumber…) (use what you have on hand)
  • Herbs (peppermint – must-have, Thai basil, cilantro, purple perilla…)
  • Green chilis (jalapeño, Korean green chili peppers)
  • Lime

Instructions
 

Marinate the Pork

  • In a bowl, mix together the sugar, chicken powder, five spice powder, minced garlic, minced shallot, soy sauce, and annatto oil to make the marinade.
  • Marinate the pork with the mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours, or preferably overnight.
  • You could slice the pork into strips or chunks (about 2-3 inches or 5-7cm thick) for quicker marination. Still keep the excess fat intact.

Braise the Pork

  • In a pot or wok, heat some cooking oil over medium-high heat. Brown the marinated pork until it turns golden-brown on all sides, scraping off any garlic and shallot clinging to the meat.
  • Pour in any remaining marinade and enough water to just cover the pork (about 1 cup or 250ml). Cover the pot with a lid, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer for 40-45 minutes.
  • After simmering, remove half of the sauce and transfer it to another pot. Continue simmering the pork until the remaining sauce thickens into a delicious glaze.
  • Once the pork is cooked, remove it from the pot and let it rest for about 10 minutes before slicing.
  • Taste and adjust the reserved sauce with more soy sauce and sugar as needed. Simmer over low heat until all the ingredients are fully blended. This sauce is intended for use with the noodles.

Prepare Other Ingredients

  • Cook the noodles (Cao Lầu noodles, udon noodles, egg noodles) following the instructions on the package. After cooking, drain them thoroughly.
  • Cut the wonton wrappers into quarters. Deep-fry them until they achieve a golden color and turn crispy, being careful as they can easily burn.
  • Wash and drain the vegetables and herbs thoroughly. Cut the lettuce into thin strips.

Assemble & Enjoy

  • Place the noodles in a serving bowl, then arrange the vegetables, herbs, and sliced pork over the noodles.
  • Top the bowl with the crispy crackers and pour the prepared sauce over the ingredients.
  • To enjoy, mix all the ingredients together. You can add a squeeze of lime or serve with chili, Vietnamese chili oil or Hoi An chili sauce for an extra spicy kick.
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!
Rate this post

Similar Posts

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments