July 7, 2009
Hue is known for its Imperial cuisine as this was once the center of the Vietnamese royalty. It’s where the Imperial City/Citadel was, where the emperors lived and where they built Royal Tombs as massive tributes to themselves before they died. According to Reid on Travel, it’s said that of Vietnam’s 1700 dishes, 1400 may come from Hue. Emperors being finicky eaters, insisted on new dishes to try and their chef’s gave them many choices in the form of small bites, or, “Vietnamese tapas” if you will. We came here hoping to live like the emperors, to see, taste, and experience all Hue has to offer.
We flew from Hanoi to Hue late in the morning, but by the time we got settled into our hotel it was well past lunch time. We set out in the bright hot humid heat, walking toward one of the recommendations on my list, called “Hang Me.” Like many places in Vietnam, if successful, there is a copycat with the same name right across the street. So if you go, make sure you go to the right place, #45 Vo Thi Sau St. This place is known for its glutenous rice dishes and only has 5 or 6 items on its laminated, oddly translated, photo-menu.
We started withBanh Beo, tiny plates of gelatinous rice with teeny dried shrimp and fried pork rind. We weren’t even sure how to eat them until one of the women who worked there showed us how to scoop it out with a spoon and dip it in the sauce. The other dish served on the basket was called Banh Ran and was described on the menu as “fried rice noodle, pig skin crispy.” The third dish we tried was Banh Lok, which was more gelatinous rice served in a banana leaf package with a whole dried shrimp and a chunk of pork fat tucked inside. While I enjoyed the uniqueness of these dishes I sometimes found the chewy texture a bit too much to go back for more. Lunch was 110,000 VND, including 2 cokes, about $6.
Later in the day, exhausted and dehydrated after exploring the ancient Imperial City, we stop at the well known Lac Thien (6 Dinh Tien Hoang St),owned by a deaf family. Again, there is a similarly named place right next door, also owned by a deaf-mute family. Even though this place is listed in almost every guidebook, the food here was quite good and the place seems frequented by locals and tourists alike. Here we had our first local Hue beer called “Huda.” I have to say, it was probably my favorite beer of the trip. The label says, “Brewed by Danish Technology.”
We order another famous Hue specialty called Banh Khoai, which is an egg and rice flour “pancake” filled with shrimp, meat, and bean sprouts. We also have an order of Nem Luiwhich are “roll your own” spring rolls made with rice paper, grilled pork and assorted fresh herbs, lettuce, and star fruit served with a peanut sauce. We like this enough to order a second round, this time with chicken. Lunch #2 was 75,000 VND, including 2 large Huda beers, about $4.
For dinner, I have what sounds like a great recommendation for the Hue’s local version of Pho, called Bun Bo Hue. Unfortunately, after trekking what feels like all the way across town on a humid summer night, in the dark, over cracked pavement (can you tell I was getting cranky?), we find the place to be closed. This is one of those times when my research failed me. I had plenty of places listed, I just couldn’t find most of them on a map. We end up eating at a place favored by guidebook toting backpackers called Phuong Nam (38 Tran Cao Van St).We have more nem (spring rolls) and sauteed chicken and vegetables. They are both ok, but nothing spectacular and I wonder about the restaurant’s claim to be “voted best food in Hue by International travelers.” But it’s cheap, and I can see why it’s filled with travelers every time we pass. Dinner, with beer, is 61,000 VND (about $3.30)