Friday, 13 April 2012

The Only Way Is Huế

Given that Vietnam has a population of over 90 million, and stretches over 1,600 kilometres from north to south, it should come as no surprise that there are many regional variations when it comes to its food. My favourite is the imperial cuisine from the old capital of Huế, which is characterised by delicate, beautifully presented dishes served in small portions. Now I know what you're thinking, but I expressly forbid anyone to describe this style of food as Vietnamese tapas!

Mixed Huế platter
I was taken to a couple of Huế restaurants during my trip, with my favourite being a place in Hanoi called Song Hương. As you can see from the photo of the mixed Huế platter, many Huế dishes are made with rice flour. Sadly, I'm not sure what they're all called, but they were all damn tasty.

Bánh bèo
Of the dishes I did find out the names of, my favourite was bánh bèo, a steamed rice flour cake topped with shredded shrimp, pork crackling and chilli. Fish sauce is liberally added to this dish, and it's eaten by carefully spooning it out of the saucer.

Grilled pork and pineapple wraps
Another great thing about Huế food is the D-I-Y aspect of it. Take these grilled pork and pineapple wraps (I can't remember the Vietnamese name) where the filling is wrapped first in lettuce then rice paper.

Cuốn Huế
There are many types of rolls in Huế cuisine with different fillings and dips. One of my favourites is cuốn Huế, steamed rice noodle rolls with a filling of pork, sour shrimps, herbs and other stuff that I can't remember (I was too busy eating to take proper notes). These went really well with the accompanying garlicky shrimp paste dip.

Cuốn diếp
Despite looking suspiciously like health food, I enjoyed the cuốn diếp. These mustard leaf rolls filled with bún (rice vermicelli), pork, prawn and various herbs might sound boring, but the peanutty dip on the side really brings them alive.

To finish off the meal, a special noodle hot pot was ordered (perhaps my hosts knew of my alter-ego). A portable stove with a steaming pot of soup, along with plates of marinated beef, banana blossom and bún (rice vermicelli) were brought to the table.

The beef and banana blossom were cooked in the galangal-infused soup before being ladled over waiting bowls of noodles. This dish was a more than fitting end to the best restaurant meal of my trip to Vietnam.

Now that I'm back home, I'm thinking it's such a shame that there isn't anywhere serving this style of food in London. Given the trend for both Vietnamese cuisine and 'small plates', I reckon a Huế restaurant would go down a storm in the capital. (This is a heavy hint to London's Vietnamese community!)

Song Hương, 4 Phan Hữu Ích, Ba Đình, Hanoi, Vietnam
(Tel: +84-4-3715-2887)

PS: Should you find yourself in Ho Chi Minh City then I strongly recommend visiting Phú Xuân, one of my favourite restaurants anywhere in the world. This is where I first tried Huế cuisine, but sadly it was closed for renovation during my recent visit.


  1. I've just had another friend come back from Vietnam and felt the need to email me dozens of photos of what she ate. SUPER JEALOUS i sooooo need to go!

  2. I loved Hue - had all of these, my family goes there just to eat these dumplings. They are called 'gifts to the mouth'. Did you try the catfish noodle soup at night? that was the best thing ever!

  3. The Hue platter looks fantastic. I love the pride that each vicinity takes in its cuisine. I wish I'd made it down to imperial Hue. Did you make it to Hoi An? The Cau Lau is the dogs xx

  4. Vietnam has been high on my visit list - now it's at the top.

  5. meemalee - I was toying with staying behind in Vietnam!

    catty - you do need to go. Anyone who's ever been falls in love with the food of Vietnam.

    LELUU - I would love to actually visit Hue itself. The food is so captivating! But sadly I didn't try the catfish noodle soup!

    Helena - sadly I was only in Hanoi and HCMC. Definitely need to discover more of Vietnam.

    Lizzie - Two more Vietnam posts to come and I'm pretty certain you'll have booked a air ticket after you've read them!

  6. Oddly we never got to eat Royal Hue cuisine in Hue, as there was a festival on and we just gorged ourselves on street food for 2 days. But we did manage to sample it in Danang and Hoi-An. Awesome stuff, some of the best we had in Vietnam.

  7. Cool, i love the idea of Vietnamese tapas... *ducks* (joking). The food looks fab, my experience of Vietnam is limited to Hanoi and its environs, but even then it was superb. I like how different Hue cuisine is, particularly those rice cakes topped with shrimp and pork.

    I'll second the call for some Hue style cuisine in London, particularly as Vietnamese cuisine is really taking off at the moment. It would definitely go down well.

  8. wow. Makes me wan to book a trip over there right now! What a plethora of good food

  9. Mzungu / Gworm - I think wherever you pitch up in Vietnam, the food will be great. And I would love to actually visit Hue itself to see if the imperial cuisine is better on home turf.

  10. oh man everything looks so good. why are these dishes not more known?? would definitely love for some of this over typical tapas/dimsum.

    1. I think you have to be quite skilled to knock up these dishes. That and the fact the herbs and other ingredients would be hard to track down mean that this style of food is difficult to emulate outside of Vietnam/SE Asia.