Wear your helmet, hop on my bike, hold on tight! Ready? Let’s go.
Taking an adventurous “Top Gear” journey- an inspired trip crossing Đèo Hải Vân (Ocean Cloud Pass) about 100km to the North from Da Nang city, you will set your foot to Hue. Hue city is not only the well-known destination in Viet Nam, where you can hop on the journey to the history of the last Emperor – Nguyen Dynasty, but also is famous for its distinctive cuisine, which is elegant, light and noble, different from other regions’ in Viet Nam. And now let’s discover Huế’s authentic cuisine with top 10 must-try dishes presenting THE BEST local foods Huế can offer you.
1. Cơm Hến (Tiny mussel rice)
The first stop is Cơm Hến, a very typical local dish that is popular among both Hue locals and tourists. It simply includes rice, tiny mussels and topped up with banana flower, fresh herbs, small chopped taros, bean sprouts, roasted peanuts and sesame, fried pork skins, and “mắm ruốc” – fermented shrimp.
For locals and Vietnamese from the central area, fresh chilli or chilli paste/powder is something cannot be missed out to boost all beautifully rich flavours of Cơm Hến. This local dish is quite hot, which would be a challenge for those who cannot have spicy foods. However, why do not give it a try when you are in Hue, especially having a bowl of Cơm Hến in a typical rainy cold day in Hue will be one of the best things Hue could offer you.
Cơm Hến can be found everywhere in Hue, but where you can find “the best spot” for satisfying your burning curiosity and foods craving, here it goes:
– 2 Trương Định, Vĩnh Ninh Sub-district (only open in the morning)
2. Bún Bò Huế (Spicy Beef Rice Vermicelli Soup in Huế)
Now, our next stop is at a rising star of Vietnamese dishes to tourists and international media – Bún Bò Huế (Spicy Beef Rice Vermicelli Soup in Huế) – a should-not-miss dish once travelling to Huế. It is simply named as Bún Bò Huế because of two main ingredients: Bún (Rice Vermicelli) and Bò (Beef) and Hue is followed to define the origin of the dish.
This typical dish of Hue cuisine has rich flavours, which well combined of sweetness from slow-cooked bone broth, saltiness from mắm ruốc (Huế shrimp paste), spicy from red pepper flake sizzled with lemongrass. And in a very Vietnamese style, a bowl of Bún Bò Huế has to be served with fresh herbs and veggies: bean sprouts, sliced morning glory, Vietnamese basil, sliced banana flower, lettuce, a bowl of lemongrass chilli paste and shrimp paste for someone want to adjust the broth for their taste (highly suggest you guys do it) and slice of lime adding up sour.
This delicious dish, which surely satisfies your stomach and “warms your soul”, is very cheap, just about 20.000 – 30.000 VND (USD$1 to USD$1.5). Huế people normally have Bún Bò Huế in the morning but you can enjoy it anytime you like.
And here it goes my top favourite places to enjoy a bowl of great authentic Bún Bò Huế:
– Thủy Bún Bò Huế: 26 Trương Định street, Vĩnh Ninh Sub-district
– O Cường & Diệp: 6 Trần Thúc Nhẫn street, Vĩnh Ninh Sub-district
– Bún Mụ Rơi: 14 Nguyễn Chí Diễu street, Thuận Thành Sub-district
3. Bún Thịt nướng (Grilled pork Vermicelli)
Again, another “noodles stop” but surely you will not get bored! Bún Thịt Nướng in Huế (Grilled pork Vermicelli) includes two main ingredients: grilled pork and rice vermicelli.
A satisfying bowl of Bún Thịt Nướng requires a combination of beautiful presentation and savoury flavours. The grilled pork is the star of the dish, so it should be evenly perfectly grilled on both sides over charcoal. The pork is marinated overnight by the marinade mainly made of a mix of lemongrass, garlic, sugar, fish sauce, oil and shallot. The marinade can vary from store to store, and each store has its own unique recipe to attract customers.
Vermicelli should be tender but not too soft. And the sauce holds no less important to bring all the elements of the dish together, which beautifully balances subtle nuances of sour from lime juice, sweet from the sugar, salty from fish sauce and spicy from the fresh chilli. The dish is served with fresh herbs (mints, Vietnamese basil), pickled carrots, lettuce, bean sprouts, sliced cucumber and thinly sliced papaya, etc. Mixing everything together, delicious authentic Bún Thịt Nướng is ready to blow your mind.
Here are the best places for you to try:
– Opposite side of 35 Nguyễn Trường Tộ Street
– Bún Phượng: 38 Bà Triệu Street
4. Bánh Huế ( Hue cakes)
Have you felt full yet? We haven’t been halfway through yet. Let’s slow down a bit to have some light specialities – Huế flour-based dishes.
Bánh nậm, bánh bèo và bánh bột lọc are three featured dishes of Huế cuisine. Bánh is literally translated as cake in English; however, these dishes are savoury dishes, not desserts. These “cakes” are very well-known traditional dishes in Hue cuisine and considered as a popular light meal. Around 3 pm to 5 pm every day, you will see ladies carrying Quang Gánh (two baskets on either end of a bamboo stick) selling all kinds of local dishes, especially these three savoury cakes. Let’s give all of them a try:
Bánh nậm is a flat steamed cake with rice flour stuffed with seasoned minced pork and shrimp wrapped in banana leaf, going with sweet fish sauce. Peeling the leaf, adding up the sauce and enjoy your nice bit of Bánh nậm.
Bánh bèo is a steamed rice cake, served in a small bowl topped with grounded shrimp and crispily fried pork skins. A bowl is very small so a local can have up to 10 bowls. Bánh Bèo is very cheap, just about USD$1 for 10 bowls.
Bánh lọc is a savoury cake stuffed with a piece of seasoned shrimp and pork, wrapped with banana leaf. The cake is made of tapioca flour instead of rice flour, creating a transparent colour. Bánh lọc is normally sold in a pair, which two cakes are tied in a string made from the banana leaf.
For me, these Huế savoury cakes are dishes that I always have to satisfy my hunger every time I visit Huế.
And again here it goes the list of popular place for you to try:
– Hang Me: 45 Vo Thi Sau st., Phu Hoi Sub-district
Attention, please! Want to sit down on the pavements like all locals, should not stop yourself from enjoying these savoury cakes from any street vendors.
5. Bánh ép Huế
Do you still have room for another light snack? Yes, we all know we have, right? So let’s try Bánh ép – a well-known tasty snack among local students. Bánh ép consists of a round, flattened base topped with minced pork, egg and sausage. The dish is served with sliced young papaya, green veggies and of course, fish sauce with a touch of chilli and garlic. Lots of my international friends called it as Vietnamese pizza.
Do not forget taking notes the addresses below before we take a rest.
– Bánh Ép Dì Mai, opposite side of Duy Tân secondary high school
– Bánh Ép Chị Xí 22/103 Nhật Lệ street
– Bánh Ép O Xí 18 Mạc Đĩnh Chi street
– Bánh Ép Mụ Kiều 4 Lê Sỹ street
Okie, I think that should be more than enough for our food tour today. Stay tuned for our next dining journey to discover another top 5 should-not-miss dishes in Hue… Take care and see you all on the second part of our Hue’s cuisine adventure.