Here's a short story on the specialty noodles of Hội An called Cao Lầu. Quite the marvelous bowl when done right, but a bit of a taste bud trap when used as bait for hordes of international tourists.
Last year, Hội An was the first city I visited upon my arrival to Vietnam. I found a street vendor who sold delicious bowls of Cao Lầu for 10.000 VND. No, I wasn't the only backpacker dining there but the food was delicious and made with care and love. Locally made noodles, greens and thin slices of Chinese-spiced roast pork topped with crispy croutons fried in pork fat. The makings of a legend, right? To add to the allure it's said Cao Lầu can only truly be made with water from the local Ba Le well.
I returned to the same spot last month only to find table upon mahogany-wood table set up where my lone station had previously resided. In fact the polished tables and wooden chairs made their way down to the opposite street corner, another 25 meters or so. Station after station all cooking the same menu, complete with color photos and English translations to keep the western tourist from getting flustered. Furthermore, there wasn't a local diner in sight.
In case you weren't aware, this is not how globaleats rolls.
Due to in part to our hunger we eventually succumbed to the tireless pleads of a 13 year old girl and sat down to an undersized bowl of overpriced, underwhelming Cao Lầu. The magic I felt from my first few bowls of Cao Lầu over a year ago never escaped my memory, but unfortunately the return was a disappointment.
What had really changed? Does food automatically decline in quality once the guidebooks exploit it? Seems like it, Although I'd offer that most of the eats guide book authors recommend are never quite that delicious to begin with [just a feeling]. Had my taste buds advanced? I'm eating different foods today than I was 3 months ago, and Cao Lầu was my first true street food experience in 'Nam. They say you never forget your first time. I dunno.
All I do know is I'm gonna keep hunting those back alleys, those front alleys, and everywhere in between for the best this country has to offer. Never again will you hear of me settling into a meal of backpacker noodles. This globaleater has too much pride to order the muesli breakfast special, and I encourage all of you out there to look a bit further when traveling..there's an obscure and amazing world right around the corner.