Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Hue: Vietnamese Food Series


From Hoi An, we traveled by bus to Hue, stopping in Da Nang only to take pictures of the Dragon Bridge. I'd been on six flights since leaving my home city, so the long bus ride to Hue was a welcome break from checking-in and out of  the airport routine. I was wrong in my assumption that the roads in Vietnam were in bad shape. The road to Hue was quite amazing. Heading over a giant mountain pass and before the Hải Vân Tunnel (the longest tunnel in Southeast Asia), we had a great view of the city of Da Nang and the South China sea.  A few hours later, we were driving along a narrow stretch of land, an aisle through the rice paddies on the small patch of land between the mountain and the sea. I really enjoyed the lovely scenery.



The Imperial City.
Hue was a lovely city set on the Perfume River.  Once the capital of pre-French Vietnam, Hue has a few historical and tourist sites like the citadel, and two imperial tombs.  We first visited the citadel, home of the Forbidden Purple City, an area with scattered temples.  Most of the historic buildings and temples were destroyed during the war, and a couple of temples were left intact and restored in 1997-1998. They're very ornate and lovely.  Outside the walled city, it was similar to the other cities I had visited in Vietnam: busy, full of mass motorbikes, with lush and green scattered parks.   

A Boat Ride on the Perfume River.
The following day, I took a tour by dragon boat on the Perfume River to see a far-out pagoda and two imperial tombs.  The dragon boat was touristy, but the boat ride gave me a chance to see some real culture and how the locals go about their lives.  I saw women doing their laundry in the river, men fishing, and water buffalos relaxing by the river bank. The river led out of town, leaving me with beautiful scenery of the mountains, an impressive Pagoda and peaceful gardens.


Vietnamese Food Highlight.

One of the highlights of my trip to Hue was the visit to a Buddhist Monastery where I tried a vegetarian meal prepared and served by Buddhist nuns. My meal started with a soup, a medley of pureed carrots and squash with chunks of mushrooms.  Next was the pickled fig dish, with potato and rice chips on the side.  I never thought of fig as a vegetable.  It was amazing, I used the chips to scoop up the pickled figs.  Then we had the main dish of sautéed green beans, sautéed tofu with tomato and red peppers, and fried wonton - a medley of vegetable wrapped in thin rice paper wonton-style. I had a preconceived notion that a vegetarian meal would be light and bland. But in the few days of traveling in Vietnam, I’d gotten used to eating meals with a fantastic burst of flavors and textures. While the meal that I had at the Buddhist monastery was very satisfying, I was more impressed by the simplicity of it all.  The whole dining atmosphere, where the dining room opened up to the courtyard with a peaceful garden, made me think about my spiritual connection to food, our dependence on nature like the sun, the earth and soil, water and air to live and thrive.

After the lunch at the monastery, and a hectic day of touring, I decided to skip the food scene for the night.  I stopped by the local market to buy some fruits – mangoes, custard apple, chico and star-fruit - and had a light dinner of pho at the hotel restaurant.

Bun Bo Hue
I could not leave Hue without trying the local specialty called Bun Bo Hue (beef noodles in Hue style). While walking in the park and taking pictures, I ran into RM and CM, American couple I met on the tour.  RM invited me to join them for dinner. Apparently, RM had already made a reservation at ‘Ancient Town’, a restaurant on Trip Advisor recommended list.  It was supposed to be off the beaten track.  We decided to hail a cab and go early thinking that we could stroll down the riverbank before the 7:30pm dinner reservation.  However, the cab took us to 'Ancient Hue', and we didn't know that it was the wrong restaurant. It was also off the beaten path, a huge and fancy restaurant with open air seating. The restaurant was almost empty when we arrived that the restaurant host offered to sit us immediately.  It had a classy decoration inside and a wonderful ambiance.  In fact, I thought the restaurant was hosting a royal family for I saw a group of people in costumes.  It turned out to be part of a dinner package where one can dress up like the Royals and have their picture taken while sitting on the century old chairs and table.   CMJ ordered the seafood platter, RM and I ordered the local specialty, Bun Bo Hue. The food matched the wonderful ambiance, but not the price.  It was very inexpensive for fine dining.

PHOTO GALLERY



1. THE CITADEL
The Imperial City is protected/enclosed with a perimeter wall of 2.5 Kilometers in length, has about 5 gates.  Within the Imperial City is the Purple Forbidden City, can be accessed through several gates.
One of the gates to the Citadel
Hiển Nhơn gate

The Hall of Supreme Harmony



2. TU DUC TOMB TEMPLES


A great place to meditate


The beautiful surrounding and the temple (that serves as a music hall) reflected in the water


3. PERFUME RIVER BOAT RIDE
Dragon Boat (the standard tourist boat)
Locals going about their daily lives of doing their laundry

A small boat hauling heavy materials (sand or cement)


The Dragon Boats Docking Area and the Pagoda, one of the most visited sites in Hue


NOTE:

1.  All photos by the author
2.  I have no material connection to the restaurants, brands of products mentioned in this blog or received any compensation for writing this post. 

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