Cao lau (also spelt as cau lao or cau lau) is a pork based noodle dish, from the Hoi An region of Vietnam. This dish is considered to be one of the finest gourmet dishes from the central regions of Vietnam. According to the An Hoians, the Cao Lau recipe cannot be replicated anywhere outside the town, because the unique taste of the dish is due to the use of the water from a ancient Cham well located just outside the town. Cao Lau is a textural tour de force consisting of thin slices of soy-simmered pork, crispy fresh lettuce and herbs such as basil, cilantro and mint, and crackly squares of deep-fried dough, all resting on a tangle of bean sprouts and wide rice noodles. It's drizzled with just enough rich meat broth and served with sweet and hot chili jam and half a lime-like kalamansi, for squeezing. Though, not much is known about the origins and history of this recipe, the local chefs believe that Cao Lau is an ancient dish, which has also graced the royal table once. Since, the ingredients used in the preparation of Cao lau are exclusively found in Hoi An, the recipe was most probably developed in the kitchens of this very town. Cao Lau is rarely seen in menus outside Hoi An area.
- 1 ½ pounds pork tenderloin – cubed or thin sliced
- 2 pounds fresh thick Vietnamese style rice noodles – about cooked linguine thickness
- 2 cups bean sprouts
- 4-6 cloves garlic – minced
- 2 tsp Chinese 5 spices
- 2 T soy sauce
- 2 tsp sugar
- ¼ tsp chicken bouillon powder
- 1 tsp ground paprika
- 2 T vegetable oil
- 2 T water
- Lettuce and/or Asian greens (thai basil, cilantro, etc.)
- Rice paper croûtons, or broken chicharron (pork or vegetarian), or crispy chow mein noodles
- Bunch chopped green onions
- Prepare a marinade of the garlic, 5 spice, soy sauce, sugar, bouillon, paprika.
- Blend the cubed or sliced pork into the marinade.
- Chill marinade and pork for at least 1 hour, or longer.
- Heat a large pot of water to boil for use in a few minutes after the pork is cooked.
- Stir fry pork in medium heat oil gently until safely cooked, and tender.
- Add 2 tablespoon water and continue gentle stir fry about 2 minutes.
- Remove from heat and set aside.
- Immerse or rinse rice noodles in cold water, gently breaking apart until loose. Drain noodles.
- Immerse noodles into pot of boiling water.
- Test noodles every 10 seconds until firm and half tender, about 30 seconds. Don't overcook!*
- Immerse bean sprouts into boiling water with the noodles.
- In about 30 seconds noodles should be firm and not quite done. Immediately drain into colander.
- Stir pork and noodles in a large serving dish.
- The dish should be very moist and saucy.
- Top with chopped greens, croutons, and chopped green onion.
1. Water source: In Hội An (Faifo) and surroundings such as Cẩm Khê, there still remain old square wells that the Cham people dug from hundreds of years ago. Water from these wells is used for drinking and cooking, and it has a unique flavor. The most famous well is Well Bá Lễ.
2. Lye solution: Lye is made from ashes of trees. Different trees give different lye solutions. This particular lye solution that is used to make cao lầu's noodle is from "tro" tree grown in Cham Island nearby.
3. Rice: The rice to make cao lầu's noodle is of a local rice variety. The rice used is neither freshly harvested nor too aged. The rice is washed, soaked in Hội An's well water and lye solution. After that the soaked rice is ground into a thick paste, poured into cotton bags to drain excess water. The paste becomes dough, and is kneaded. The thin dough is briefly steamed, cut into strings, and steamed again until the noodle becomes completely cooked. The noodle is left in open air for its surface to dry. When used, the noodle is blanched briefly in hot water. Cao lầu's noodle has more texture and doesn't have a sour flavor of regular rice noodle.
4. Xá xíu (Translator: This is Vietnamese pronunciation of Chinese barbecue pork, char siu): About 500g lean pork butt, cut to about 5cm thick. Mixture: 5g Chinese five-spice powder + 1/2 teaspoon salt + 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper + 1 tablespoon minced garlic + 2 tablespoons soy sauce. Marinate the pork in the mixture for 40 minutes. Heat a small pot in low heat, add 2 tablespoons cooking oil, and pan fry the pork a little, then add boiling water to cover the meat. You can also use coconut juice instead of water. Simmer until the liquid is reduced to little remaining. The pork should now be tender. When used, slice it into thin pieces.
5. Stock: Cook 500g pork bones in 3 liters of water and 100 (typo error?) dried shallots. Simmer and skim the fat often until about 2.5 liters stock is left. Remove the bones and shallot from the stock. Season the stock with salt and MSG (Oriental food, of course!) to taste.
6. Pork rind: Select the thinnest pork skin, and remove all the fat. Cut the skin to small pieces of about 2 cm wide, and marinate for 30 minutes in the same kind of mixture you use to make xá xíu. Deep fry (in high heat?) the pork rind until crispy. Let the pork rind drain.
7. Herb: Húng lủi (Mentha aquatica L.; water mint), cut to short stems. Chive, minced. Cilantro also.
8. Presentation: Put noodle and water mint in a bowl. Place slices of xá xíu on top. Throw in some pork rind and minced chive. Pour just a litte of the stock into the bowl. Also throw in some cilantro on top. Put a dash of pepper.