Tucked away down the Ba Le Well Lane on the edge of Hoi An‘s Old Town is Ba Le Well Restaurant. Hugely popular with Hoi An locals, you are more likely to hear it before you see it, and when you see it you will most probably wonder what all the fuss is about, as it’s not much more than a street food stall with communal bench table and plastic chairs. A barbecue laden with pork skewers lies at the front of the tiny restaurant, which specialises in the Hoi An version of country pancakes or banh xeo, as they are famously known throughout Vietnam.
As with most national dishes, each region has their own take (see Saigon’s version here) with Hoi An’s banh xeo relying upon the fragrant herbs grown locally at Tra Que vegetable garden — in my opinion these are some of the freshest and tastiest found in the country.
If you choose Ba Le Well — and you should — go hungry and be ready for a few surprises. Within seconds of pulling up a stool, plates piled with fresh herbs, crispy savoury pancakes stuffed with bean sprouts and a river shrimp, pork skewers, shrimp spring rolls, an undressed coleslaw salad, satay-style dip and rice paper all magically appear in front of you. Just before you get a chance to wonder what the hell is going on, you will get pounced upon by the fabulously forward owner or one of her equally cougar-esque staff who will not only give you a lesson in how to prepare your banh xeo, but will also literally stuff them in your mouth.
And the food just keeps coming. Every time a plate is anything less than half full, it gets piled high with more. I have never left this restaurant feeling less than hugely uncomfortable, but the food is so good you can’t help but overindulge, and at 80,000 VND per person it’s a great value feed. Throw in the entertainment value on top and it’s one of the best nights out you’ll get in Hoi An. Ba Le Well is a must-visit for anyone who wants to sample the tastes of Hoi An, unless of course you are a vegetarian, where pickings are thin on the ground as it’s a set menu – well, actually it’s a no-menu establishment. It’s one meal done well and served with aplomb.
If this isn’t quite to your taste, other alternatives line nearby Phan Chau Trinh Street, so take a wander. Forpho you can’t go wrong with Pho Xua at number 35A, which aside from pho knocks up cao lau, com gaand pork spring rolls that literally melt in the mouth at 25,000 VND a dish — it’s a great one-stop place to try a few of the more famous Hoi An specialty dishes.
If you’re keen to try banh xeo but won’t be in this area, don’t fear, as they’re on the menu at most Vietnamese restaurants in town. Mermaid, one of Hoi An’s first restaurants to target travellers, is worthy of a try if you’re not quite feeling up to the feed of monstrous proportions you’ll get at Ba Le Well.