International Cao Lau Challenge 2019
The second International Cao Lau Challenge (ICLC) took place on March 2019. Organised by Hoi An Culinary Events – the organisers of the Hoi An International Food Festival – the event aims to reimagine Hoi An’s signature dish for the 21st century. 12 international chefs will create their takes on this classic dish.
While the recipe and techniques for making are thought to be more than 100 years old, the exact origins of Cao Lau are not known. Popular opinion has it that it has a mixture of Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese roots – an easy assumption to make when considering the main ingredients (Chinese Char Siu, thick Japanese udon noodles, Vietnamese herbs and French-style croutons). Furthermore, given that around the time it was developed, Hoi An was still a bustling commercial hub with traders from all over Asia, it makes sense that a dish born out of this melting pot would have characteristics of all these cuisines.
What is clear though is that Cao Lau is a Hoi An staple. The exact recipe and technique for making the special noodles, which are said to be made with water drawn from Hoi An’s Ba Le Well, and given their characteristic colour by using ash from wood found on Cham Island, is a closely guarded secret known only by a handful of people from a family in Hoi An. As a truly authentic Cao Lau can only be found here in the city, it is always at the top of any visitor’s list of ‘things to eat’.