Famed for both its imperial cuisine and the contemporary creativity of its street foods, the ancient town of Hue has much to offer in 24 hours
At 5:30 a.m., drive to Chuon Lagoon in Phu An Commune of Phu Vang District, around 10 kilometers from downtown Hue to enjoy banh xeo (Vietnamese pancake) with a rabbitfish filling.
Banh xeo – a pancake originating in Vietnam – has gained popularity across the country over the last few decades, but nowhere else is it served using rabbitfish fillings, a specialty throughout Chuon Village.
Cooks first wash the fish, then drizzle some oil into the pan. They fry the fish with a layer of flour and let it sit for about three minutes after topping with mung beans sprouts and scallions. It is then flipped over and cooked for another two minutes.
A rabbitfish pancake costs about VND50,000-60,000 ($2.17-2.60) per serving, and just VND2,000 ($0.09) if you supply the ingredients.
Locals hold the best way to eat the pancake is with your hands. After deboning the fish, dip the pancake into spicy fish sauce before taking a bite. The spicy, crunchy and rich taste of banh xeo always has customers returning for more.
Back downtown, why not try the most iconic dish of the former imperial capital: Hue-style beef noodles.
The broth requires both pig and beef bones boiled with a generous dose of lemongrass, sugar, annatto, and shrimp paste. Vendors typically add sliced brisket, crab balls and pork pie. Adventurous eaters can also add cubed pig’s blood for even more flavor. When served, the dish is garnished with a tangle of vegetables like lime, scallions, cilantro, banana blossoms, mint, basil, and Vietnamese coriander. But be warned, if you are not a fan of spicy food: the original version in Hue packs much more of a punch than bun bo Hue served in Saigon or Hanoi.
A bowl of bun bo Hue costs from VND30,000 to VND35,000 at 47 Nguyen Cong Tru Street, 20 Bach Dang Street or Kim Chau Restaurant in Dong Ba Market.
Around 9 a.m., discover the unique taste of salt coffee, a must-try experience while on tour in Hue. Salt coffee is brewed in a traditional Vietnamese stainless-steel coffee filter called “phin“. When ordering, you will be brought a phin dripping filtered coffee into a cup of salty cream. After a few minutes, stir the coffee and cream together, and add a few ice cubes to cool off.
The salty layer whipped from the fermented milk and salt rises to the surface of the cup, offering an experience no other variation of coffee can equal. A cup of coffee is only VND15,000 at 10 Nguyen Luong Bang or 142 Dang Thai Than.
In the afternoon, savor traditional Vietnamese rice cooked in clay pots at a local restaurant. The most typical accompaniments for this meal include salted fish and shrimp sauce. You can try Hue’s fermented pickles (mam dua), which are usually served with white rice or small-shrimp paste (mam ruoc), a staple used in clam rice.
Don’t forget to try banh khoai, a tinier, thicker and crunchier version to banh xeo. Readily available at roadside stalls, local joints and markets, this open-faced crepe is typically filled with pork, shrimp, scallions and beansprouts. However, you can also find several venues offering this local snack with quail eggs and starfruit.
Banh khoai is best served with soybean and peanut sauce, which also features sesame, pork and the juice from fermented shrimp paste.
Around 3 p.m., if hungry, enjoy banh beo (steamed rice cake), banh ram it (fried dumpling) and banh bot loc (tapioca dumpling), famous Hue specialties raved about by travel bloggers.
Banh beo is a small steamed rice cake. Rice flour is poured into tiny plates before they are steamed. When served, these cakes are topped with shrimp powder, stir-fried onion and deep-fried pork skin. Enjoy the soft white cake with fish sauce.
Made from sticky rice, banh ram it is unique thanks to its steamed sticky goodness and crunchy deep-fried layer. The steamed part is like a dumpling with pork, shrimp and mushroom. Like banh beo, this cake is also topped with shrimp powder and stir-fried onion, and served with fish sauce.
Banh beo and banh ram it are served at restaurants along Pham Hong Thai Street, O Som Restaurant opposite No. 4, Hai Trieu Street, Di Sinh at 82 Le Thanh Ton Street, and Ong Do Restaurant at 1C Nguyen Binh Khiem Street.
Banh bot loc is a chewy dumpling made from tapioca flour and filled with pork and shrimp. The cake is covered in banana leaves and steamed before being served hot with fish sauce. It can be found at restaurants along Vo Thi Sau, Le Thanh Ton, Pham Hong Thai, Truong Dinh and Nguyen Hue, or street vendors near Trang Tien Bridge.
And in the evening, a bowl of com hen would make an ideal dinner.
Com hen is a rice dish featuring rural ingredients like baby mussels (hen) and fresh herbs combined through a sophisticated process. The mussels are boiled to create the broth adding sweetness and depth to the rice.
According to locals, the tastiest baby mussels are found in the Perfume River section of Con Village, Vi Da Ward. However, they still contain sand and dirt at this point and require a thorough wash before being seasoned and sautéed.
Another crucial ingredient is fresh herbs including mint leaves, fine banana blossom shavings, starfruit slices, and pennywort. Many visitors not used to eating baby mussels will find this dish difficult to eat, but should still experience its special taste.
A bowl costs from VND7,000-10,000 and foodies can visit some shops at 64/7 Ung Binh, 28 Pham Hong Thai and 17 Han Mac Tu
After a day enjoying savory dishes, walk around Hue trying different kinds of sweet soups from longan with lotus seeds, red bean, taro to roasted pork filter powder. Sweet soup stalls are open until about 10 p.m. and each cup costs VND10,000-15,000. Some suggested addresses are 29 Hung Vuong, Thuong Bac Park and 10 Nguyen Sinh Cung.
If hungry late at night, you can visit eateries that remain open until about 2 a.m. and serve banh canh (Vietnamese pork thick noodle soup) on Han Thuyen Street, crab noodle soup on Gia Hoi Bridge and banh mi near Truong Tien Bridge.
Story by Ngan Duong, Nguyen Quy