You’ll smell it before you see it. That’s how you know you’ve found Bale Well, a tiny open-air restaurant in one of Hoi An’s back alleys.
As arguably the most touristy town in Vietnam, Hoi An has a lot of fantastic restaurants, catering to visitors seeking air conditioned fine dining. I appreciate a gourmet meal as much as the next person, but my search for Bale Well was because I wanted something a little less polished.
It’s admittedly not a secret place. Yes, Bale Well does appear in the guidebooks and Google searches, but it’s also just slightly off the main tourist streets of Hoi An’s old city — hidden enough to attract locals and tourists in the know.
My travel mate and I ordered up the only dish we could: barbecued pork, cooked on a smoking outdoor grill a few feet away (and the source of the delicious aroma that had guided us). There’s no real menu at Bale Well, just a set offering of fixings to make the tastiest rolls I’ve ever experienced. Ask for the set dish and you’ll get a buffet of pork, rice paper wrappers, rice pancakes (called bánh xèo, and considered to be one of the iconic Hoi An street foods), a basket of fresh herbs (coriander, mint, Asian basil), and dipping sauce.
Securing all the items into a tight roll takes some practice (I never quite mastered it), but even if your roll ends up falling apart while juice drips down your arms, it’s still a totally delicious experience. The pork is smoky, the herbs crunchy, the pancake crispy, and the sauce a perfect mix of sweet and spicy.
The best part is that lunch at Bale Well feels far more authentic — not to mention much cheaper — than at the touristy restaurants along the river. Even the name is a homage to traditional Vietnamese street food. “Bale Well” also refers to an ancient well that dates back to the 10th century Cham dynasty and is part of culinary legend; it’s said that the well was the traditional water source for the Hoi An specialty of cao lau, a thick noodle soup of pork or seafood. But that’s another food story for another day…
The official address for Bale Well is 45/51 Trần Hưng Đạo, but finding it can be a bit of a challenge (although some say that’s part of the fun). It’s tucked down an alleyway between Trần Hưng Đạo and Phan Châu Trinh. Just follow your nose.