Cao lau consists of thick rice noodles, pieces of barbecued pork, greens and crunchy croutons.
How to make it
The pork is sliced thin and cooked in the traditional Chinese method known as char siu. In addition to adding greens on top of the dish, it’s also common to add bean sprouts, which together with the greens adds a burst of freshness and crisp texture to the chewy noodles and meaty pork. The final touch is the crunch of the croutons, which are made from dried cao lau noodles.
The cao lau noodles are the star of the show and the ingredient that makes this dish unique to Hoi An. While the exact recipe is known only to a few people, the tale behind the noodles is legendary. First, cao lau noodles are said to be made using only water from one ancient well in Hoi An called Ba Le well. The well is surprisingly unmarked in a town that depends on tourism and would undoubtedly profit on making it a better-known stop on the tourist circuit. Tucked inconspicuously in an alley, however, wedged right up against a house, the well looks like nothing special and could be easily missed if you’re not looking for it. This obscurity makes the well all the more mystical, adding to the esoteric quality of the noodles made with its water.
In addition to the water for cao lau noodles supposedly coming from this one, special well, the water is also supposed to be mixed with a specific type of ash to create a lye solution. The ash is said to come from a type of tree found on the Cham islands, which are off the coast of Hoi An.