No need too many fine words to describe Hue because Hue itself is beautiful and poetic enough to enchant people. By its glorious yesterday of a feudal court. By its superb palaces, tombs and rituals. By its incredible war wounds. Or maybe simply by its extremely distinctive cuisine.
To save your time on searching and googling, in this article, we present you a list of fabulous local Hue foods you have to try if you have a chance to visit this city.
The “All about from rice”
Bún Bò Huế (Hue Beef Noodle)
Hue beef vermicelli is the soul of Hue cuisine. A direct translation would be “beef (bò) vermicelli noodles (bún) from Hue”. From the look, it’s similar to any Vietnamese noodle soups with pig’s leg, sliced beef, vermicelli noodles, boiled pig’s blood, pork pies, and crab balls. But once you taste the broth, you’ll see the difference right away. Bún bò Huế ’s broth is such a light, spicy broth which heavily fragranced with lemongrass and especially shrimp paste. To Hue people, shrimp paste is the key ingredient to make an excellent broth, because a good one must be made from fresh tiny shrimp with no artificial seasonings will create a unique light sweet flavor aftertaste in your throat.
Cơm Hến & Bún Hến
Firstly let’s explain the names. “Cơm hến” translates into baby clams (hến) and rice (cơm), similarly for Bún (Noodles). About its origin, some say it was once the Emperor’s dish during the Nguyen Dynasty. Others believe that it was initially created as a peasant’s dish, made to use up leftover rice, but became well known for its intricate flavours and is now popularly sold all around the city. The decisive ingredient is hến that are caught off the muddy banks of the rivers and estuaries around central region. Baby clams then are soaked in water added chillies to remove the mud, thoroughly cleaned and boiled before taken the shell out. The flesh is then marinated with spices for 10 minutes and stir-fried with oil, chopped onions, chilli powder, and fish sauce. For the boiling broth, they season it with Hue shrimp paste, sugar, ginger and salt, and then cook well until it bursts fragrance. Stir-fried clams are put into a bowl with rice (must be cold rice) or noodles, herbs, roasted peanuts, star fruit, sesames and topped with pork cracklings. There is never a wrong time to eat it. Breakfast, lunch, dinner or any time in between.
Bánh Khoái (Hue Pancake)
“Bánh Khoái” is “bánh xèo”’s cousin as it has almost the same ingredients and similar way to make. So how can we differentiate between them? “Bánh Khoái”, in general, is smaller, thicker, and crispier than sizzling pancake. The dipping sauce is unique to Hue too, and is usually made from soy sauce, pork, peanuts, and sesame – although every restaurant seems to have their own version. Unlike “bánh xèo”, these aren’t wrapped up with rice paper. Eat them straight from the bowl.
Bánh Bèo (steamed duckweed-shaped cake)
“Bánh bèo” is quite simply savoury cake consisting of steamed rice flour and tapioca on a small dish, topped with fried pork skins, shredded shrimp and fried shallots. The name “bánh bèo” was born due to the thin and round shape of the cake, looks like the duckweed, or according to the folk comparison, this dish is very cheap (“bèo” in Vietnamese). When eating “bánh bèo”, drip some spicy fish sauce on top and then dig it around and out with a spoon.
“Bánh nậm” are made from a rice flour batter, which is spread onto a banana leaf with ground shrimp, minced pork, and scallions, then wrapped and steamed. The batter must be so fine that when you eat, it melts in your mouth.
“Bánh Lọc” are similar to “Bánh nậm”, but made from a clear, chewy tapioca batter. The word “lọc” also prefers to tapioca. In the Hue ancient palace in the past, this cake was shaped in the form of bullion, wrapped in fresh banana leaves. These are usually filled with sweet and salty simmered shrimp and fat, and enjoyed with sweet chilli fish sauce.
Bánh Ram Ít
or “bánh ít trần” is lesser-known by foreigners but super popular in Central Vietnam. It is a triple-layered circular stack of varying textures, with a crispy base of fried flour, in the middle layer a piece of chewy rice dumpling stuffed with pork and shrimp, and finally minced shrimp or spring onion on top. The best thing is, the combination of super chewy and crispy texture make you feel like there is such a great symphony in your mouth.
It’s a small disc made of tapioca or cassava flour flattened between two heavy iron plates and commonly served as a snack for students. The word “Ép” here also means “being flattened”. In fact, it comes from the beach town of Thuan An in the east of Hue. When serving, the seller will always provide fresh vegetables, papaya and carrot pickles for guests to wrap with “Bánh ép“and dip in sweet and sour fish sauce. See, in Vietnam, although it’s just a “eat for fun” dish, it’s supper healthy and balance! ^^
The “ very Huế”
Vả trộn (Fig Salad)
Fig is a not so exotic fruit on earth, but Fig Salad is unique in Hue. Unlike people normally eat them ripe, Hueians boil and squeeze them with spices, which creat a strange freshy and savoury taste, like meat. Actually from the look, 9 out 10 people will absolutely mistaken it with meat salad, that’s why people use it as a meat alternative on vegetarian days. It’s usually relished with crunchy fried shrimp chips or grilled rice crackers.
Tôm chua (fermented sour shrimp)
“Tôm Chua” is such a challenge for any adventurous eaters due to its unusual taste and smell. Fresh raw prawns (Tôm) after carefully cleaned are marinated with chillies, galangals, salt, sugar and mixed well with cooked sticky rice. That mixture is added in a glass jar and covered by guava leaves. After a week drying under the sun, it’s ready to be served. A typical “Tôm Chua” dish must be very sour, red and stinks a pungent smell. It would be “best of best” if you enjoy it with steamed rice and boil pork. You know what, Hue natives living outside the city when return to their homeland, they always long for this dish.
Bánh canh Nam Phổ (Nam Phổ Thick Noodle Soup)
Not popular and widely sold as beef vermicelli or tiny mussel rice, yet “Bánh canh Nam Phổ” – crab thick noodle soup in Nam Phổ style still appeals lots of fan. This not picky in ingredients, just contains thick fresh noodle, shrimp, crab, meat pie…yet very meticulous in cooking process. How to make soft but tough noodle fibers is a task. Noodles are cooked with viscous broth in many hours but is not broken. We’ve never seen “Bánh canh Nam Phổ” in fancy restaurants, the best way to find this dish is looking for a rustic sign in mobile stalls on the sidewalk or in small alleys.
The Sweet & Chill
“Chè” is not only a popular Vietnamese dessert but all over South East Asia. Hue boasts about hundred kinds of “Chè”, including some imperial ones, which just only reserved for the royalty in the past, like “chè hạt sen” – lotus seed, chè khoai tía – Yam, chè long nhãn – longan and lotus, or “Chè” for lower class, such as “chè đậu xanh” – mung beans, “chè chuối” – banana, “chè khoai môn” – taro, etc. Oh, don’t forget to try . “Chè bột lọc heo quay” (chè with roasted pork in tapioca), a “one of a kind” “Chè” when roaming around shady streets of Hue.
“Mè Xửng” is Hue. Come to Hue, must buy “Mè Xửng”. Vietnamese will think of Hue right a way when it comes to “Mè Xửng”, like the way people enjoy “Bánh Cốm” to have a fond remembrance of Hanoi. Huế people call the candy a symbol of their city, and give this local specialty as a gift for friends and families who live elsewhere. “Mè xửng is a sesame-coated chewy sweet made with peanuts, sugar, malt syrup and rice flour. Mè means sesame. Xửng is a steamer tray, and some people say this was the traditional container for holding the freshly made candy. In some dictionaries, xửng is defined as the way sugar is cooked down—not quite caramelized—when making mè xửng” (Chris Galvin). There are so many kinds of “Mè Xửng” such as mirror mè xửng, black sesame mè xửng, and crunchy mè xửng, but no matter what kinds, they all win people’s heart by their special flavour – the crunchy buttery peanut mixed with the nutty sesame flavor in such a chewy sweet-scented texture. Warning: this sweetie is not for the weak teeth.
Cà phê muối (Salt coffee)
Salt coffee sounds gross but we assure that it will worth a try! If “cà phê sữa” is Vietnamese drip coffee served with sweetened condensed milk, “cà phê muối” is very much alike with 2 above things and salt. Please don’t frighten yourself with an idea “coffee taste like salt”, the coffee doesn’t taste salty at all, the salt here is just a taste highlight adding stronger flavor for coffee! Believe us, this is such a tasty coffee drink!
You wanna eat like locals. And also wish to pick up local background. Or you want to pack in everything as much as possible in an easy and laidback way? We’re here for you! Let’s take a deep dive into the food paradise with #Angie Adventure! We not only show you where best local food are but tell you how to eat it and the social-historical context of each dish. Check out our website and share your best experience in Vietnam with us!
All photos used in this article are from the internet