Chili is a prominent feature in the unforgettable dishes of Hue, a town on the central coast that was Vietnam's royal capital for centuries.
Hue is almost as famous for its cuisine as for the decaying imperial buildings and monuments that dot the old city on the Perfume River.
Its popularity can be seen in the number of packed restaurants that serve Hue-style dishes in Ho Chi Minh City these days.
The restaurants are invariably run by former citizens of Hue making a home-away-from-home for themselves and profiting from the city's culinary reputation.
Their home town is not only beautiful, it has been the inspiration of many poets through the ages. This crowd-pleasing homage can be seen in the pictures on the walls of their restaurants.
Because Hue was long the abode of royalty, it's no surprise to learn that there are as many as 600 Hue dishes on the menu in HCMC, including 175 types of sweet soup and 125 dishes.
The spicy beef and vermicelli soup called bun bo Hue goes down well with many Vietnamese people, and foreigners too.
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Hue Gia Vien
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Usually made with oxtail but sometimes pig trotters, its special taste comes from the little bit of shrimp paste in the ingredients.
The ideal bowl of bun bo Hue contains a little underdone beef, chili powder and spices added to the oxtail and vermicelli soup and is served with bean sprouts, herbs, lettuce and thinly sliced banana blossom on the side.
Other favorites of Hue cuisine are banh beo nhan tom (steamed rice cake served with dried shrimp and fish sauce), banh uot thit nuong (steamed rice rolls with charcoal- broiled pork), banh cuon (steamed rice rolls), and banh nam (steamed shrimp rice cake).
Many people in the city also like bun thit nuong (grilled pork and rice noodles), banh canh tom cua (rice noodle soup with shrimp and crabmeat), and com hen (mussels and rice).
But wait, there's more! In restaurants all across HCMC, fans of Hue food can find nem chua (pickled sour pork sausage), tom chua (sour shrimp) and thit heo luoc (boiled pork).
Then there are the eel dishes such as ca chinh hap sa (steamed eel and citronella), ca chinh um mang (steamed eel and bamboo shoots), ca chinh xao lan (sautÃƒ©ed eel and lemongrass curry), and that old standby lau ca chinh (eel hot pot).
They are all spicy dishes, and delicious to boot. Truly it is said that to eat Hue food is to bring all five senses into full play.
Of course, the true Hue cuisine is found in its native city, but that's not to detract from the restaurants in HCMC. While the recipes get changed somewhat when they travel south, they still keep their essence.