Emporer Tu Duc (1848-83) expected 50 dishes to be prepared by 50 cooks and to be served by 50 servants at every meal. If I had a lot of money, I think I would spend it that way, too. Anyway, ETDuc is to thank for the variety of food in Hue. Although we did not try an elaborate imperial dinner, we had many good tastes there.
The famous soup in Hue is the one pictured here: Bun Bo Hue. Again, my internet research led me to the restaurant known for this local soup...with more spaghetti-like noodles than in pho, and the balls of meat are tasty and a little spicy. Other than that, I was honestly a little disappointed in it. I am so spoiled by the soups in my market...this soup is great, but it's not my market soup, and I definitely could only handle eating one bowl, prepared by three women and served by one moody man. Spoiled, spoiled, spoiled.
My favorite tasting experience occurred in the public market right before it closed the night after our motorbike trip. As we passed this woman, she beckoned us over with the catch phrase "no meat!" Jessica and I both agree that walking through markets with a lot of raw meat makes you want anything but meat. So we sat down and she served us a smorgasborg of "vehicles for glutinous rice." (Jessica's catch phrase).
My favorite glutinous vehicle was the one up front in the picture - believe it or not, the green filling is pesto. I could have eaten 50 of them, both prepared and served by this one friendly-yet-overcharging woman. The dish behind it was good, too - crunchy little tofu squares were topped with glutinous rice and shrimp powder. She kept placing plates in front of us, which was a very effective strategy. As usual, I should have asked "how much?" because I'm quite sure she charged us double. I guess that 60 cents per dish instead of 30 isn't that bad, but...like I said, you lose perspective when you live as cheaply as we do here in Vietnam. And when you are spoiled and live steps away from a market where people don't cheat you...
Another night we ate in a restaurant that served traditional Hue food, and it wasn't until later that we discovered that the entire family who served us was deaf; we read it in the guide book later and then remembered that they used a lot of gestures when we ordered. There we had three regional specialties:
1) Banh Khoai - a pancake with shrimp, meat and egg that you wrap up in lettuce, figs and green bananas and dip in peanut sauce(pictured underneat the top dish here).
2) Banh Cuon - rice steamed rolls filled with Pho beef and lettuce - dipped in nuoc cham sauce (fish sauce), and
3) Banh Beo - pictured on top here - shrimp and meat sauce over glutinous rice.
#1 won the prize for me. I could have eaten ten of them, prepared and served by five members of a deaf family.
Honestly, though, the vote for best overall food may have to go to a Japanese restaurant called "A Japanese Restaurant." This place is run by a Japanese man who has made it his mission to educate Vietnamese street children. 52 kids have been put through school because of his efforts, and this restaurant is run to help a percentage of them learn the hospitality business - a kind of Hue-style FareStart. Every taste was extremely delicious, and was prepared by someone who was given a break. Just like at FareStart, you feel grateful for the opportunity to eat for good karma.
Last but not least, here is Jessica with our two local Huda beers. Not bad, out of the choices available for Vietnamese beer. But it doesn't win any prizes, and I was so tired, I could hardly even drink this one huge Huda made by a local brewery and served by one long-haired Vietnamese bar owner.