Making My Way To Huế
After three days amidst the mayhem that is Sài Gòn, it was time to head up to Huế. Huế is a short, one hour flight north of Sài Gòn. With a couple of lengthy flights in economy under my belt, I opted for business class this time around. It was pretty much a no-brainer. Economy was fifty bucks…first-class, a hundred.
The extra fifty doesn’t get you a whole lot…just a bit more room to stretch out and a couple of pretty decent sandwiches.
Actually, I was quite surprised at the quality here. Good, fresh bread and veg and some very decent prosciutto. The fake cheese wasn’t bad either!
An excellent fruit cup, I must say.
And a fine cuppa joe to top it off.
The city of Huế is situated on the Sông Hương (Perfume River). When I started this blog last August my first post was Sông Hương restaurant. Back then I couldn’t imagine I’d be strolling alongside that river scoping out the local fare a year later.
Speaking of local fare, I started off with some nasty stuff.
After settling in to my room the rains started. That left me with one option: the hotel restaurant. I sauntered into a darkened, deserted room. The menu consisted of about ten pages. The first eight offered pizzas, burgers and pastas, etc. Not quite what I was searching for. The last two were all Vietnamese fare written in English…not a good sign. After some humming and hawwing I went with the Beef Soup with Yellow Noodles (53,000VND=$3) based on the servers’ glowing recommendation. Just about the most pitiful attempt at Vietnamese soup ever. Nasty, stringy meat. Green beans and mushrooms? WTF? A weak, flavourless broth so poorly prepared that the scum is clinging to the bowl. And, to boot, chili gel. Yikes!! One sip of the broth was enough for me to head out in search of the good stuff.
Within a few minutes stroll a bicycle taxi driver pointed me in a good direction. He had a buddy nearby that puts out some damn good Bún bò Huế. Not quite the “authentic” version I was hoping for but damn tasty nevertheless. As it was late in the day, the stock had been simmering awhile and was loaded with lemongrass and chili goodness. Not a lot of beef but good quality. The plethora of greens and banana flower added some great texture. The large bottle of ice-cold Huda, Huế’s most popular beer, didn’t hurt one bit. The friendly proprietor grabbed one for himself, sat down and, without a word, started chugging. A great bowl and a great experience.
A street vendor preparing my breakfast. Having had Op La in Sài Gòn, I was on the lookout for Op La Banh Mi…fried eggs, some veg, mayo and chili sauce in a super-fresh, crispy baguette. These carts need to be placed on every other street corner in Greater Vancouver…immediately!!
One of my all-time favourite Vietnamese dishes is Bún thịt nướng (Vermicelli noodles with grilled pork). After a bit of research, I figured Huyền Anh was the place to go in Huế.
After about a ten minute cab ride from downtown, I was deposited at the edge of a highway and was pointed towards this signpost. Huyền Anh specializes in two dishes and two dishes only. Bánh ướt and Bún thịt nướng.
Bánh ướt (wet cakes) are grilled pork, mint, leaf lettuce and fried shallot wrapped in a translucent rice flour wrap. Served alongside is a nicely pungent nước chấm dip. Five of these were nowhere near enough. Another round, please!
The Bún thịt nướng here is some of the best I’ve come across.
Although quite a smaller portion than I’m accustomed to, this bowl makes up for it in quality, freshness and an amazing amount of flavour. The pork is loaded with great char and the variety of herbs gave it a huge range of taste. Several spoonfuls of the chili-laden nước chấm spiked things up mightily. As I happily ambled back out to the highway my cabbie was there waiting. Now that is service.
One dish I’ve yet to see on local Vietnamese menus is Bún Hến.
Bún Hến is the noodle variation of the more common rice dish Cơm Hến. Hến are the clams in this dish surrounded by peanuts, crispy pork rind, polygonum, spearmint and scallions. As this is my first shot at this dish I’ve not much to go by. One thing, though. I’d figured on a much bigger clam taste considering it’s the main ingredient. All told, quite an interesting dish…something I’d love to try out again.
In search of more great local grub, I ventured into a “famous” backpacker joint and ordered Bún bò Huế. I was served a miserable bowl, took a couple of bites, dropped some cash on the table and fled. Fortunately, about a block or so away, I stumbled across La Boulangerie Francaise.
La Boulangerie Francaise is not only a cool little patisserie that puts out great pastry, it also takes in disadvantaged youth and trains them in baking. You can watch a video here. It’s in French but I’m sure you’ll get the gist of it.
If you ever get the notion to visit Vietnam, be sure to pay Huế a visit. It’s been called the culinary capital of Vietnam and is definitely a top foodie destination. If I ever venture back, Huế will be my first stop.