Many tourists choose Hue just to taste its wide range of sophisticated food.
Indeed, taking package tourists to expensive Hue restaurants is an essential component of many tours to the central region city.
But that’s not the best way to know the true cuisine of Hue. Besides their high prices, the fancy eateries modify the local recipes to suit the perceived tastes of visitors from different regions.
Best is to follow the locals to the places they frequent, usually small inns on little streets.
There’s one such restaurant on Tran Cao Van Street that is always crowded and the owners have to put tables to the edge of the sidewalk to sit more people.
The locals say it’s the place for baby clams cooked in the authentic Hue style, and the prices are low. The woman who owns the establishment has been making baby clam dishes for more than 30 years.
Hue food is popular across Vietnam, and restaurants specializing in the cuisine of Vietnam’s old capital have opened in every city in the country.
In Ho Chi Minh City, there are as many as 600 Hue dishes on the menu, and each restaurant serves many of them.
But in Hue, people have to do a little traveling as the different foods tend not to assemble at one place.
For example, bánh bèo, a fern-shaped rice powder cake served in tiny bowls with shrimp powder on top, and bánh nậm, steamed shrimp rice cake, are found in the village of Vy Da.
They are sold piping hot from the gardens of the homes where they are cooked so there is no menu and no need to place an order.
The most popular Hue dish would have to be bún bò Huế, a spicy beef and vermicelli soup that goes down well with Vietnamese people and foreigners alike.
According to the local young people, the best place for bún bò Huế is Truong Dinh Street, a small thoroughfare that extends for less than one kilometer along the Huong River.
The local restaurants on Truong Dinh Street are open for breakfast, lunch and supper, but latecomers will go hungry, they say.
One local restaurant owner there says bún bò Huế only tastes good when it is piping hot and accompanied by hot peppers. Some diners even treat themselves with extra bites of Hue’s special chilies.
Besides that special dish, Truong Dinh serves duck vermicelli soup and baby clam dishes prepared and cooked in front of the customers.
Truong Dinh is also the street of Hue desserts like the various local versions of the sweet bean soup chè.
The proportions are small, it’s true, as are the bánh bèo and bánh nậm at many places, but “the taste will be lost if you eat too much,” says a shop owner.
By Phan Huy Tram, Thanh Nien News (The story can be found in the December 2nd issue of our print edition, Thanh Nien Weekly)