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A sartorial, culinary adventure in Hoi An

Update: July, 26/2015 - 21:41

Having a good time: Visitors relax at Hoi An Silk Village's Mulberry Garden Restaurant. — Photos courtesy of Hoi An Silk Village

by Hoai Nam

Mulberry Garden Restaurant in Hoi An Silk Village offers the centuries old rich, traditional cuisine of the ancient town and Quang Nam Province.

Situated on the fringes of the old quarter in the ancient city of Hoi An, the restaurant boasts a museum of the silk trade and different kinds of mulberries. It is surrounded by trees, mulberry gardens, old wooden buildings and shops selling silk creations, as well as tailoring shops and a coffee bar.

The restaurant can be the last stop for visitors after they have spent hours touring the village, and there, they can savour delicacies from ancient Hoi An, including My Quang, a flat rice noodle dish with shrimp, pork, chicken or fish that is peculiar to Viet Nam's central region.

Thuan, the chef at the restaurant, says My Quang-Phu Chiem, a type of noodle produced in Phu Chiem village, represented the original culture and cuisine of Quang Nam.

"Rice from the village is the best for handmade noodles. We have to order noodles from the village, as most restaurants in the province do, for sale each day," Thuan says.

"The noodles are eaten for breakfast by local farmers or as a snack in the afternoon. But they are a very popular dish at home or in restaurants in the central region," he says, adding that tourists could see the signs of stalls selling My Quang along National Highway 1 in the central region.

Generous spread: The restaurant offers local cuisine and a 40-dish buffet in the evening.

The dish is served fast at the restaurant, but the preparation for cooking it takes a long time, he says.

Pork belly, freshly caught river shrimp, roasted peanuts and peanut oil are the main ingredients for the sauce, the chef says.

The dish must be eaten with vegetables grown in the gardens of Tra Que Village, a suburban area of Hoi An, he says.

Tran Thi Anh Dao, a writer, says she often has the dish for breakfast at a restaurant or, sometimes, at home.

"The dish is the most popular food in the central region. Noodles can be made by many craftsmen in the region, but the Phu Chiem Village-made noodles always make the best My Quang dish," Dao says.

"My Quang-Phu Chiem can be found in every corner of Quang Nam Province, and Hoi An is the best place for tasting the dish by the light of a lantern at night," she says.

"I really enjoyed the dish at the Mulberry Garden Restaurant while listening to a story about silk farming and weaving done around ancient mulberry trees, a practice that has been revived," she says.

"It's a bit fatty with pork, but vegetables, peanuts and chilli balance the taste. A rice cake tops the bowl of My Quang, and gastronomes crush it and dip it in sauce," she says.

"The chef adds boiled eggs, pork sausage and banana flower to make the dish more eye-catching, but every ingredient has a role in ensuring the health of the gastronomes. It is neither too hot nor too cold," she adds.

Dao says she finds My Quang noodles similar to Pho, a rice noodle soup with beef found in Ha Noi, but the latter is a bit tough and came with less sauce.

My Quang is like a mixture of noodles, salad, sauce and the flavours of hot green chilli, lime, sweet basil, pepper and garlic, the 36-year-old says.

Ocean's offerings: Seafood dishes are a favourite at the buffet, which costs VND159,000 per customer.

The dish is prepared properly in Quang Nam, with the original ingredients collected from gardens in the province, she says.

The restaurant, located in the two-hectare Silk Village, which has 40 varieties of mulberry trees that are used to produce silk of the best quality, is cool all the time due to the shade and the clay-tiled roofs of the buildings.

One must taste Cao Lau, a noodle dish of Hoi An, whenever one visits the town and the restaurant, the chef says.

The dish is made of round flour noodles, slices of barbecued pork, bean sprouts and lettuce, as well as herbs and stock.

But for making the noodles, water from the Ba Le well in an alley off Phan Chu Trinh Street in Hoi An is needed.

"It was formerly made by the Chinese community living in the town. However, the flour must be mixed with water from the ancient well, as craftsmen in the town believe that this formula produces the best quality," Le Vy, manager of the Silk Village, says.

"I was told by my ancestors in Hoi An that Cao Lau has been well-known for centuries. Making it is similar to cooking My Quang, but its sauce is made from well-cooked pork belly and soy sauce," Vy says, adding that he was born and raised in Hoi An.

The chef often puts pieces of fried dried flour into the dish, he says.

Chicken rice

It is a trendy dish from Hoi An, and visitors can find it on street corners in the old quarter or in luxury restaurants.

Some of the restaurants have been listed among those visited most by domestic and foreign tourists.

Thuan, Mulberry Garden Restaurant's chef, prepares the dish carefully.

He boils the chicken and uses the broth to cook rice that has previously been mixed with spices.

Thuan then dyes the steaming rice yellow with saffron before adding small pieces of chicken and fragrant knotweed.

Mulberry Garden Restaurant (Silk Village)

Address: 28, Nguyen Tat Thanh, Hoi An city, Quang Nam Province

Telephone: 0510-3921144/ 0933 481 881

Fax: 05103921991

Fanpages: Hoian silk village

Sale@hoiansilkvillage.com or

hoiansilkvillage.com

Hour: 8am to 10pm

Price: VND60,000-600,000 for a dish

Comment: Tasty food, good service, open air and favourite night folk performance

Fragrant knotweed is necessary to make the dish perfect, and the dish is eaten with chicken broth, he says.

"It is tasty food. Spices are soaked with the rice before it is steamed in chicken broth. The rice is cooked with the chicken broth. The rice is very dry but very soft," Nguyen Thi Thanh Tam, a visitor from Quang Tri Province, says.

"I was told by my friends that it is a must for a tourist to eat chicken rice in Hoi An. That is the reason I had to try the dish at a romantic restaurant surrounded by a garden," she says.

Vy, the restaurant manager, says the restaurant offers 40 dishes in its evening buffet, from 5pm to 9pm, every day.

He says this is because Hoi An is sunny during the day, and evenings are the time for getting together after touring Hoi An and the Silk Village.

Vy says the restaurant also offers juices made from produce from tropical gardens, hand-made coffee and sweet maize pudding for dessert.

He says the restaurant offers buffet parties in its garden accompanied by folk performances for at least 400 visitors.

The Silk Village has been voted the third biggest attraction in the ancient town by the travel website TripAdvisor.

Visitors can order a custom-made silk dress on-site at the village while touring or eating at the restaurant. — VNS

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