Besides the deluxe and very special foods that were consumed only by royalty, the ancient capital of Hue is renowned for foods of which even lowly mandarins – and now tourists – can partake.
These sublime delicacies include the exquisite banh beo (bloating-fern shaped cake), the mouth watering nem lui (pork on a little stick) and do not leave Hue without sitting in front of a large bowl of bun bo gio heo (noodle soup served with beef and pork). Yes indeed, welcome to Hue!
Bo gio heo are big and brittle, quite unlike those of bun bo nam bo (southern noodles). The broth is something special but it’s the combination of it all – the shrimp, the pig bones, the citronella and the pieces of fresh ginger. Look around and you’ll see that most people reach for the chili and also squeeze a couple of wedges of lime into a spoon pouring the juice into the soup. Eating bun bo gio heo is a taste treat.
Hue people make many kinds of dumplings and the first that should be tried are the banh bot loc tom (finest flour and shrimp – tom – served with fish sauce containing sugar and vinegar), banh uot (steamed rice crepe served with boiled pork, shrimp sauce and shrimp paste) and banh ram it (sticky rice crepe and tiny shrimp).
In Hue you’ll also find banh beo (bloating-fern shaped cakes) and banh nam (sticky rice dumplings with phrynuim bulb powder, pork, shrimp, pepper and onion, wrapped in phrynuim leaves). With these foods one gets little bowls of fish sauce that contains chili, sugar and vinegar – dipping material.
Nem lui (pork on a little stick) is a taste treat. One can eat it right off the stick, have it put into a baguette with maybe some hot sauce (yum!) or, make a sit-down meal out of it. In that case one is given very thin rice papers, slices of unripe banana, mint leaves (and probably another thing or two).
One lays the rice paper down and neatly takes bits of each of the foods and lays them along one end of the rice paper. This is two be rolled up tightly like a fat cigar and hopefully you’ve arranged all of the foods so that with each bite you’ll get some of each. Dip, bite – wow! Good stuff. After you make three or four you’ll be an expert, almost.
Com hen (rice with mussels) and bun hen (noodles with mussels) are also special to Hue so – try it! Com hen will probably be served with fried groundnut or sesame seeds, pig skin, banana flower, Indian taro slices, bean sprouts and chili, and that is exactly the way it should be. Bon Appetit!