45 Tran Hung Dao Street, Hoi An
So, we were sitting in our beds after a long day of travelling, and Sib (I call my baby sister Sib or Sibba – she’s my sibling) whipped out her iPad to hunt down some Hoi An food porn on Instagram while I read my book. It wasn’t long before I was distracted by “oohs” and “aahs” and “oh my GODs” coming from the other bed. I finally gave in and joined her on her bed to see what the excitement was all about. It was Bale Well.
Down (another) dodgy looking alley, Instagram reports from fellow travelling foodies indicated that $5.00 would get you an all-you-can-eat Vietnamese street food feast. That’s all the info we needed to convince us we should visit.
The following night, we whipped out the map and started walking. We really didn’t have much of a clue where we were going to be honest, but we found the general area the alley was meant to be in. Then we got into a bit of trouble. We wandered for a while, up and down streets, hoping for the best. Eventually we looked up and saw a tiny blue sign with an arrow – 100m that way, apparently. Off we went! We kept going, with me counting out my steps to try to measure it. We bumped into another sign with another arrow – 20m more. Ok, no worries. Followed the sign down another smaller, darker, dicier alley, and promptly wound up… in someone’s backyard. Hmmm.
The little old man sitting there looked at us and smirked a little. “Bale Well?” Um yes…. where?! Pointed back the same way we came from. Great. We backtracked, got to the same 20m this way sign, looked right (the way we came from) and saw another house. Looked left and spotted another tiny blue sign. The 20m arrow was pointing the wrong way. We kept walking, and eventually stumbled on this magical place. Bale Well.
We found an empty table for two and took our seats as a purple t-shirt clad woman descended upon us. “Drink?” Yes thanks, 2 bottles of water. That was about the extent of our verbal communication and ordering. We looked around at the other tables, took a few photos, and all of a sudden a procession of food was making its way to our table.
For a mere sum of AUD$6.00 per person, we got a bottle of water each and an all-you-can-stuff-your-face-with pile of fresh herbs and salad, peanut dipping sauce, stir fried veggies, rice paper, freshly fried spring rolls and BBQd meat on sticks. We just stared at it all while we tried to work out what was going on, not realising that our very helpful waitress was preparing to feed us. Literally. She grabbed a rice paper sheet and demonstrated how to put it all together – layer some green stuff and/or veggies, a spring roll and a bit of meat (remove stick first). Dip in sauce. Then, she shoved the roll in Sib’s mouth. Not just help it in front of her, actually, physically fed her. She then pointed to the camera – apparently she wasn’t taking the food out of Sib’s mouth until we took a photo. We thought we’d be safe after that, but no, it was my turn next! There I was, a 28 year old woman, being hand fed by a Vietnamese woman, without a single word exchanged. To call it the most bizarre dining experience of my life would probably still be an understatement.
After the feeding episode, we were finally left to eat our food, and it was incredible. Worth getting lost, worth the embarrassment of accidentally turning up in some poor old man’s backyard, worth the humiliation of being hand fed in front of other diners. This food was amazing!!! The meat was so soft and tender – still not entirely sure what it was, we think one was pork, the other we didn’t have a clue. The fresh herbs made the world of difference, and those spring rolls – wow. The dipping sauces were perfect with the food too, and when we looked like we were running out, the bowls were topped up by the attentive staff.
We couldn’t get through it all, it was literally piled on the plates. Just as we were rolling back in our seats and comparing food babies, dessert came out. We weren’t expecting this part! Mango mousse with a little whipped cream and sprinkles. I have no idea what was going on in that cup, but my goodness it was special. It was cold, smooth and creamy, with actual bits of fresh mango – perfect finish to dinner!
If you’re heading to Hoi An, do yourself a favour and look this place up on Instagram like we did. Then get yourself a map and some directions and get ready to eat like a maniac. Also, prepare to possible be hand fed. It’s worth it.