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    Huế cuisine with the unique and fascinating tastes

    Huế cuisine with the unique and fascinating tastes

    Cơm hến – Mussel Rice





    Mussel rice is a Huế specialty enjoyed by local people and domestic and foreign visitors alike, especially for breakfast. The main ingredients of this popular dish are cold rice and small mussels, to which are added roasted peanuts, sesame, shrimp paste, roasted pigskin, chilli, onion, and various raw vegetables. Al these ingredients combine to create a unique sweet and spicy flavour.

    Cồn hến (mussel island) in the middle of the Hương river provides mussels for the entire city. Inhabitants of Ngọc Anh village in Phú Thượng commune outside the city limit shuck the mussels and prepare the other ingredients. Early each morning, hundreds of peddlers from the village shoulder baskets of mussel rice and carry them into the city. Customers squat on the pavement around a seller, creating an intimate and home-like atmosphere.

    Salted rice


     

     Salted rice

    A frugal meal of cơm muối (salted rice) is the daily menu of impoverished families. However, the mandarins at the royal court in Huế regarded this dish as a specialty to reserve for distinguished guests. Today, many Huế residents still express their hospitality to close friends by serving them salted rice.

    Cơm muối includes husked rice and refined salt served with chili, lime, pepper, and lemon grass. After harvesting, farmers husk the rice without removing the bran and make sure the grains do not break. Then they cook the rice in a small earthen pot. They roast, simmer, or fry salt with the other ingredients and spices to create various dishes of salted rice with distinctive tastes. They usually serve the rice in antique-style bowls.

    Hosts and guests enjoy a meal of rice and salt in a refined manner, eating bit by bit to savour the different flavours. The writer Nguyễn Tuân meticulously described dozens of different salt dishes in his writings about the Huế cuisine.

    Few people in present-day Huế are accomplished in cooking salted rice. Huế restaurants want to restore this simple dish to its former place of honour, but that is not as easy as it seems.


    Huế Noodle soup

     


    If one had to pick a single food that is emblematic of Huế, it would be bún bò (rice noodle soup with beef). Huế residents prefer to buy their bún bò from street vendors rather than in restaurants. Street vendors carry bún (soft, thin white noodles) and (bò) slices of beef in two bamboo baskets hanging from poles balanced across their shoulders.

    People eat noodles on the sidewalks, squatting on small stools next to a pot of boiling broth. The intense fragrance rising from the pot seems to beckon others to eat as well.

    Most Huế street vendors come from villages such as Thủy An, Phát Lát and Vạn Vạn outside the city. Each household in these villages has one or two street vendors. Selling rice noodle soup is both a way of earning a living and of carrying on a family and village culinary tradition. Vendors sell to regular customers, usually in small side streets or alleys. When lunchtime is over, they stop selling and go shopping for the next day’s ingredients.

    Street vendors carry one pot of broth they can set on a portable charcoal stove. Another container holds additional ingredients such as stewed pork legs, grilled ground pork, beef and pork tendon, grilled crab, pig and duck blood, and thin slices of beef. On the other side of the bamboo pole is a pot fresh onion to extract the juice, which they pour over the shrimps. The cooks then spread out the dong leaves and arrange on the leaves a thin layer of rice powder to which they have added a teanspoon of ground manioc plus water and salt. They add a layer of dried shrimps and wrap the mixture in the leaves, which they steam. A plate of unwrapped bánh lá chả tôm creates a colorful picture. Hosts serve bánh lá chả tôm with grilled, chopped shrimps and high-quality fish sauce. 

    Clear dumplings with shrimp and porkt 




    These dumplings made of manioc powder, lean pork and shrimps are a popular dish available in all Huế markets. The attractive, transparent dumplings reveal a red shrimp and a slice of brown pork stuffed inside.

    The preparation is neither expensive nor time consuming but does require experience. Cooks choose high-quality manioc powder and fresh shrimps; they pour the white powder into boiling water and knead the resulting dough until it becomes soft and flexible. Then they stirfry the shrimps with spices and spring onions and slice boiled pork for the stuffing. Finally, they make the small half-moon-shaped cakes and drop them in boiling water for several minutes.

    Huế residents serve bánh bột lọc with yellow bread crumbs, chili sauce, and the stock from the boiled shrimps, which they use for a specially prepared fish sauce.

    Rice cakes with diced shrimp (Bánh bèo tôm chấy) 



    Elderly women wearing casual clothes and carrying one or two bamboo baskets along the streets in the afternoons are a common sight in Huế. Besides bánh bột lọc, they also sell bánh bèo tôm chấy (rice cakes with diced shrimps), a light dish that Huế residents often enjoy in the afternoon.

    The preparation of bánh bèo tôm chấy is simple. The cooks soak rice powder I n water for several minutes until it turns into a fine paste. Then they mix it with melted lard and pour thin layers in small earthen bowls that are approximately seven to eight centimetres in diameter. After that, they steam the cakes in a pot. The finished bánh (cakes) look like fern leaves (bèo), hence their name.

    Vendors place tôm chấy (diced shrimps) on the cakes. Since the cakes are thin, people do not use chopsticks but instead take a paddle-shaped piece of bamboo to sclice the cakes. They dip the pieces in a special sauce made with sugar, garlic, and chilli.


    Fermented shrimp

     

     Fermented shrimpHuế’s tôm chua (fermented shrimps) is a specialty that can be found nowhere else. Local women known for their skill, intelligence, and hard work create attractive dishes from fermented ingredients: small fish, pork, bean curd, and especially shrimps. Connoisseurs of Huế cuisine consider fermented shrimps to be a refined, high-class dish. The twentieth century writer Nguyễn Tuân likened the dish to a fragrant flower just beginning to blossom. He would open a new jar of tôm chua only in the company of close friends.

     

    High-quality tôm chua is made using shrimps from a single location: the brackish water of Tam Giang Lagoon outside of Huế. Chefs remove the heads and tails from fresh shrimps and soak them in rice alcohol until the shrimps become “drunk”. They then dry the shrimps and mix them with bamboo shoots and salt and add fragrant sticky rice. They place this mixture in tightly sealed ceramic jars for fermentation that lasts one week in summer or a month in winter. After fermentation is complete, they add spices such as galingale, garlic, sliced chillies, and sugar.

    Local residents typically eat fermented shrimps with boiled pork, lettuce, sliced green bananas, figs, and star fruit. They also serve tôm chua with rice pancakes (bánh cuốn) and grilled potatoes, spinach, basil, rice noodles, boiled pork, and fish sauce.

    Many Huế enterprises produce tôm chua. Families also prepare the dish according to their preferred tastes. One person making delicious fermented shrimps in Huế is Mrs. Nguyễn Thị Hường, who operates a small shop in Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai street, Vĩnh Lợi Ward. According to Mrs. Hường, authentic tôm chua should be pinkish, not red. One should check the production date since fermented shrimps must be consumed within a limited period of time


    Huế sweet pudding

     

     Huế sweet pudding

    Chè (sweet pudding) is one of the three typical images of Huế summer, along with flamboyant flowers and the Hương River. After dark, residents converge on the river banks to enjoy fresh air and savour puddings made from maize, potatoes, green and red beans, lotus seeds, and other ingredients mixed with coconut milk and served over ice.

    Huế is said to have thirty-six kinds of chè. However, the actual figure is much higher. No other city in Vietnam has as many varieties. Huế people, wth their skill in food preparation, make hundreds of strange, delicious, and nutritious chè varieties.

    In the past, chefs at the royal palace and at the homes of rich, aristocratic families usually cooked sophisticated and refined puddings, including chè with lotus seeds, chè with longans stuffed with lotus seeds, and chè with roasted meat. Previously, ordinary people only enjoyed simple and cheap dishes made from grains and legumes.

    Huế boasts dozens of restaurants and hundreds of street vendors serving chè. They concentrate in Hùng Vương, Trần Phú, Trương Định and Cửa Thượng Tứ Streets and along the banks of the Hương River.
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    Item Reviewed: Huế cuisine with the unique and fascinating tastes Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Hoàng Liên
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