Hue is known for a number of things in Vietnam. It’s been said that the most beautiful women in Vietnam come from Hue. Whether that is true or not — I have no idea or opinion; it’s just something I’ve heard. It’s also known for its rich and varied cuisine, reputed to be the best in all of Vietnam. It’s known for its most famous dish, bun bo hue, or lemongrass beef noodle soup with thick round rice noodles, pig’s feet, and blood cubes. It’s also known for imperial Vietnamese cuisine given its history. It was once the capital of Vietnam where the Nguyen dynasty emperors lived and subsequently built their many elaborate and extensive tombs. So many of the most laborious dishes in Vietnam are said to have come from this general region. When I think of the things I ate growing up that my mom would buy and take home from Vietnamese bakeries in San Jose, I think of banh beo, which are tiny steamed rice cake discs topped with shredded shrimp, drizzled in scallion oil, and dunked into nuoc cham dipping sauce. I also think of the far more elusive banh it tran, which I just recently discovered the name for. It’s a sticky rice ball that is stuffed with mashed mung bean, minced pork and shrimp, topped with scallions, and also dipped into nuoc cham before eating. This was one of my favorite snacks growing up that my mom would get me. I realized I hadn’t had it in ages when I was reading about Hue for this trip.
We visited a number of sites on the tourist track today, including the Khai Dinh (a Nguyen emperor) tomb that had both elaborate eastern and western architectural influences, as well as the Hue Citadel or Imperial City. We were short for time in Hue, much to our regret, but a day trip with a small group tour was all that worked. This also meant that lunch was already arranged and included, and sadly other than the small bowl of their version of bun bo hue, the dishes were all fairly generic. I also felt a bit rushed while at the Citadel to take the photos I really wanted. And to make things worse, the group we were with was probably the worst group we’d ever traveled with: most of them were mutes, some were completely disinterested in the backstory of these sites being told by our English-speaking guides, and another was a total loud mouth talking about everything he knew about Asian culture overall.
I’d really like to go back to Hue, if not just to see the other sites that are in this historic city, but also to really taste the real food of Hue that makes my mother and many other Vietnamese people I know salivate.