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Hue: Experience Vietnam’s tremendous food culture

Hue, the ancient capital of Vietnam, is well known as the land of distinctive cultural traits and delightful traditional cuisine. People mention Hue’s refined cuisine is a kind of legend which foodaholics should try once in life. 

Some say one reason the Nguyễn Lords chose Huế is because it has the best produce in the country: seafood is tastier with exactly the right balance of salt in the water, fruit is sweeter, and herbs have smaller leaves and a sharper, more complex flavour than the rest of Vietnam.

The best way to get to the heart of Huế’s tremendous food culture is to take to the streets. Vietnam’s former imperial capital fostered an elegant array of dishes that continue to be the pride of its people.

“You can get Huế cuisine elsewhere in Vietnam, but it never tastes quite the same as it does here.”

Below are the seven elegant Huế dishes bearing the imprint of storied origins. Let’s take a food tour with us!

1. “Bánh bột lọc”

Texture is one thing Huế locals love to explore in their meals. Some travellers may find bánh bột lọc a curiously sticky morsel, but that’s part of the fun. Tear each translucent tapicoa dumpling from the banana leaf, and get a good look at the little piece of pork and shrimp buried inside. It’s a mini-meal, Hue-style. 

2. “Bánh nậm”

One of Huế’s most tempting steamed dumplings, bánh nậm will win you over with its dainty texture and delicious taste. Each dumpling is made of a thin layer of rice flour paste, topped with fresh shrimp as well as shrimp flakes fried with garlic, scallions and onion. The cook deftly folds the dumplings into banana leaf parcels for steaming. Like bánh bèo, a few drops of fish sauce is all it takes to make each beautiful bite come alive in your mouth. 

3. “Bánh ram ít”

Huế is one of the few places where you can encounter this delightful dumpling. A fried sticky rice cake and soft, steamed rice cake are layered on each other into a small mound. The rice is the star of the show, but a few shreds of fresh and fried shrimp, shallots and crispy pork skin make the finishing touches.

4. “Bánh bèo”

These petite rice cakes are only the size of a silver dollar, but you’re guaranteed to want (at least) half a dozen once you taste them. Each bite is steamed in a small ceramic saucer, then topped with a sprinkle of dried shrimp, pork crackling, shallots, and scallion oil. A few drops of slightly sweetened fish sauce and you have the quintessential Huế snack.

5. “Bánh ướt”

Sometimes described as wet rice paper, bánh ướt is a soft, succulent sheet of fresh rice noodle. Huế cooks wrap it around a mix of aromatic herbs, crisp greens and grilled meat to make rolls. Get in there with your hands, and dip frequently into the spicy, garlic sauce on the side. 

6. “Bánh khoái”

Hope you’re not afraid of a little crunch. This pan-fried crepe is stuffed full with plump shrimp, quail egg, bean sprouts and pork belly. The batter gets its characteristic yellow colour by mixed  turmeric powder with rice flour. Bánh khoái in Huế is always served with a fresh salad of figs, starfruit and cucumber to cut the grease, as well as a thick dipping sauce made from peanuts and pork liver.

7. “Bún thịt nướng”

Something of a light Vietnamese-style salad, bún thịt nướng is an inspired order for lunch when visiting the former imperial capital. First, well-seasoned pork is grilled over flaming charcoal. The bowl is assembled with cold rice vermicelli noodles, fresh herbs, pickled papaya and carrot, thinly sliced cucumber coins, and a handful of fresh lettuce — the meat goes on last. Douse it all in light fish sauce, mix, and dig in.