Located halfway up the coast of Vietnam, Hue is the perfect respite from chaotic Ho Chi Minh City and hectic Hanoi. Once the imperial capital of the Nguyen Lords from 1802 to 1945, Hue retains its faded yet charming royal air in its ancient pagodas, fascinating royal tombs and wide, leafy boulevards.
1. CLAM RICE (CƠM HẾN)
Hue’s famous clam rice is made from white rice cooked and then cooled. The rice is topped with small clams, spices, crispy bits of crackling and roasted peanuts. Add in a dab of Hue’s pungent shrimp paste for a tart and spicy kick, but first-time tryers beware – a little goes a long way! Clam rice is often served with a side of fresh vegetables and herbs including shredded banana bud, bean sprouts and shredded taro.
Some of the best places for clam rice are on the tiny islet of Con Hen or at Quan Chi Nho (Little Sister’s Restaurant) on Pham Hong Thai Street, at the corner of Truong Dinh ― but you’ll have to get there early as it’s only sold in the mornings. The eatery at 2 Truong Dinh is also a good spot for this Hue specialty, usually only VND 10,000 (~USD 50 cents) per bowl.
2. STEAMED RICE CAKES
Hue is famous for its steamed rice cakes including “banh beo”, or little steamed rice cakes topped with shredded dried shrimp, scallion oil and crispy croutons, all doused in a sweet and savory fish sauce. Find this delicacy in the area around An Dinh Palace and the streets of Ngự Bình and Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm.
You’ll also want to try “banh khoai”, little half-moon shaped rice flour cakes stuffed with pork and shrimp. Find them at the three branches of a restaurant called Thượng Tứ, on Lạc Thiện, Lạc Thạnh and Bạch Yến.
3. Hue beef noodle soup (BÚN BÒ HUẾ)
The soul of Hue cuisine is undoubtedly Hue Beef Noodle Soup, better known as “Bun Bo Hue”. A steaming bowl consists of rice noodles, ham hocks or pigs feet, a cube of congealed blood (optional), a few slices of beef and a heaping plate of fresh herbs and vegetables. The most famous Hue Beef Noodle Soup is at 13 Lý Thường Kiệt, next to the government-run hotel (Nhà khách Công đoàn).
4. sweet pudding (CHÈ HẺM)
There’s a saying that if Hanoi has “36 Old Streets”, then Hue has “36 kinds of sweet desserts”. The Vietnamese word “che” refers to a thick, pudding-type dessert, and Hue has a huge range of these sweet snacks made from ingredients like young corn, lotus seeds, jellies, mung bean-stuffed dumplings, yams and dozens of other variations.
Hue even has a sweet and savory specialty “che” made up of small bits of roasted pork inside a doughy dumpling cooked in a sweet syrup. Hard to describe, you’ll have to just taste it for yourself!