Writer’s belief that he can stand out in a city with hundreds of restaurants serving food from his native place pays off
When Muong Man, a Hue-born writer, planned to open a Hue restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City more than 11 years ago, the city already boasted over 100 restaurants that served dishes native to the former imperial capital.
Bun giam nuoc - rice vermicelli eaten with a kind of small jellyfish and other foods - is one of specialties at Ruoc Restaurant / PHOTO: GIANG VU
Good words that easily reminded people of Hue had already been used many times to name the restaurants, he said.
As a latecomer to this niche market, he had to be better and be unique if he was to succeed, he knew.
So it took him three months to come up with the name for his restaurant: Ruoc, which is a kind of small sea shrimp often used to make the shrimp paste known as mam ruoc in Vietnamese.
The name has been praised by many customers who hail from Hue, because mam ruoc is used in most local dishes, from the most common ones to those categorized as royal.
The Hue-born writer was not just particular about getting the restaurant’s name just right.
When you sell an area’s native dishes, you must use raw materials from the area to maintain the original flavors, he said.
Therefore, every week, raw materials from Hue are delivered to his place by road or even by air.
At Ruoc, mam ruoc made right in Hue is used to cook bun bo Hue (spicy beef rice vermicelli soup).
Figs (known as va in Vietnamese) grown in Hue is used to make goi va – a salad in which the fruit’s meat is mixed with pork and shrimps.
Since Hue’s va is remarkably small and sweet, the choice distinguishes Ruoc from other sellers that use the fruits sold elsewhere.
Muong Man even orders fish and vegetables from his native place.
All the raw materials are processed by his wife who received her training and recipes from his mother.
Thanks to its owner’s intense focus on being authentic, Ruoc has soon gained fame and popularity for selling Hue dishes in Hue style, instead of in HCMC style, like many other restaurants were, and are doing.
38/26 Nguyen Van Troi St., Ward 15, Phu Nhuan District
Open hours: 9 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Prices: bun giam nuoc (VND57,000/bowl), bun bo Hue (VND57,000/bowl)
Among over 100 dishes on the menu, the more popular ones are banh beo (steamed rice pancakes), banh nam (steamed rice cakes with minced shrimp and pork), banh bot loc (steamed tapioca cakes filled with shrimps and pork), and com hen (rice topped with mussels that are stir-fried with spices and mam ruoc).
But, there are also dishes that are difficult to find elsewhere, like bun giam nuoc – rice vermicelli eaten with shrimp, pork, crab meat, nuoc (a kind of small jellyfish that is only available in Hue in the summer), peanuts, fried rice paper, and raw vegetables.
Then there is the che bot loc heo quay, a dessert in which tapioca balls stuffed with roasted pork are eaten with sugar water. With its contrasting tastes, the dish does not have many fans, so the restaurant’s cooks only make it upon request.
When dining at Ruoc, one should not miss out on the famous rice wine that is processed at Chuon, a 600-year-old village located some 10 kilometers to the northeast of Hue. It has been considered the former capital’s best rice wine for centuries.
Besides its original, authentic dishes, Ruoc also wins its customers over with its peaceful ambience, whether they eat indoors or outdoors in the middle of a garden. Even its atmosphere, many people have said, reminds them of their native place.