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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Good Morning Vietnam! Part 7: Hue Foodie Fun!

Hue is one of the places in Vietnam that is famed for its food- not just the "Royal Cuisine", such as I wrote about in my previous post, but for its unique and special "street food". As I'm married to Chef Dan, and thus his little "foodie" (LOL), when we travel we seek out great food experiences- cooking classes, markets, interesting restaurants, local wines, liqueurs and beers, and foodie tours. In previous posts about this trip (and the one we made to Vietnam in 2008), I've talked about the excellent cooking classes we took in Hoi An and Saigon, and as this was our first time visiting Hue, known as the Imperial City of Vietnam, I knew we wanted to explore the cuisine of the city.
After experiencing the "royal" side of Hue for two days, on our last evening we took a great private "foodie" tour around the city with Xuan Hoa (his name means "peaceful spring"), through, a great site I found while "Googling" for "foodie tours" in the various places were planned to visit. Tours By Locals offers a huge selection of tours in 133 countries around the world, all led by local tour guides. The site is easy to use, and the tours are very inexpensive (so tip good!); Xuan's four-hour evening foodie tour was $35 per person. Xuan's tour is called "Hue Food Tour By Cyclo", but at his suggestion we opted to walk (if you do it this way, note that there is a LOT of walking- you literally cover the city on foot!), and then take cyclos back at the end of the tour, and thus, in addition to getting to try many different and delicious Hue specialties, we really got to see a great portion of the city, too! We were glad we walked, for it enabled us to keep eating (LOL), and we were truly stuffed by the time it was over! If you are any kind of a "foodie" with an interest in getting "off the beaten tourist path" and really seeing the city, you will truly enjoy this tour, and we highly recommend it!
Banh Beo!
Throughout Vietnam, small restaurants or street stalls often make only the one or two specialties that they are famous for, and some of the many Hue specialties you can try on this tour includes Hue Pancake (banh khoai), Hue Beef Vermicelli Soup (bun bo Hue), Tapioca Dumplings (banh bot loc), Water Fern Cake (banh beo), Steamed Shrimp Rice Cake ( ban nam ) and Sticky Rice Dumplings on a Fried Dumpling (banh ram it). 
If you don't read or speak Vietnamese, you may be wary of plopping yourself down in a little chair and trying all the delicious-looking things you see in the markets, so a "foodie tour" with someone who DOES know the regional specialties, and who has the best dumplings or the best soup, is a great way to get to know the food- and the people!

Making delicious Nem Lui rolls!

Xuan shoes us how it's done...

Dan makes his roll!

Yes, I even took photos of the menus, so that I would know what we'd eaten once we got home, and be able to find recipes for Chef Dan! At our first stop, we made delicious Nem Lui rolls, with lemongrass-skewered shrimp and veggies, rolled in rice paper and dipped in peanut sauce, and Banh Nam, rice dumplings and shrimp steamed in banana leaves, which you dip in Nước Mắm, Vietnamese fish sauce! We also had yummy little Bahn Beo, the small steamed rice discs topped with shrimp. One of the truly fun things about Vietnamese food is that you often get to "do it yourself", rolling up veggies and meat or seafood in leaves or rice paper, and making delicious things that you then get to dip in yummy sauces!

Yes, I took photos of the menu!

Over the bridge...

...and under the bridge!

We walked over the Perfume River bridge that we had cycloed over earlier, and saw the night markets of Hue- like many places in Vietnam, Hue has wonderful night markets full of people heartily enjoying life!  Xuan was delightful company, and talking with him made the tour a lot of fun.
Night Market Foodie Fun!

Our place for Bun Bo Hue – Hue Beef Vermicelli Soup

Here we stopped for delicious, stuffed "Hue Crepes", made fresh for us, right before our eyes!
We had variations on this dish throughout Vietnam, and each was subtly different! Delicious peanut dipping sauces were one of the things that differentiated Hue foods; we had several different versions of peanut sauce with various dishes on this tour.

Our souvenir of Hue!

So I'll remember what we had! :-)
A good luck shrine at the restaurant...

We also had a chance to stop at Ho Chi Minh's house on Mai Thuc Loan St. where he lived, while a child, with his family, from 1895 to 1901. (And naturally I had to photograph Chef Dan in the kitchen!)

Our last stop of the evening was for Che Hue, "Sweet Soup", what I have taken to calling a "Hue Parfait"! It is literally a multi-layered desert in a glass!
Xuan had the cyclos meet us at the Che Hue stand, and, stuffed to the gills, we poured ourselves into the waiting cyclos for the ride back to our hotel!  
Cyclo home!

Good Morning Vietnam, Part 6: The Way to Hue! Royal Treatment!

As my readers know from my previous blogposts, Dan and I just came back from a wonderful month in Vietnam, thanks to my winning a trip on Facebook from Vietnam Central Coast Tourism! We started our trip in Hoi An, where we spent 6 amazing days, and from there, railfans that we are, we took Vietnam Railways north along the coast to Hue, the imperial capital of the Nguyen Dynasty, 1802-1945.
At our "Royal Dinner" in Hue!

Train travel in Vietnam is VERY INEXPENSIVE and the trains are really great! You can sit in the dining car and watch the scenery over good food, coffee, and beer, and on the short trips there are lots of food and beverage coaches to get yummy snacks from! In 2008 we took a 2-night sleeper train all the way from Saigon to Hanoi, and it was great fun! Taking the trains you get to meet Vietnamese people, and see how "real people" travel, as opposed to tourists! We highly recommend taking the trains to travel along the Vietnam coast! (We only wish the trains went inland to the Highlands, too!) We boarded the train to Hue at the Danang train station (which has WiFi!):
On the way to the Danang Train Station: KFC?!

Danang Train Station

All aboard!

Munchies from the Roach Coach! LOL

State of the art comfort!

The train was several hours late, but the engineer REALLY BOOKED and made up a LOT of time! We were expecting to arrive at 4pm and we arrived at 2pm!

Rice paddies...

The coast of Vietnam...

A drink on the Perfume River!

We checked into the four-star KHÁCH SẠN MƯỜNG THANH Hotel in Hue (which the Nam Hai Resort concierges graciously helped us arrange), which has a really nice bar with delightful bartenders- one of whom LOVES American country music! :-) - and a lovely outside patio on the Perfume River, and had a cool drink... and perusing the bar menu I discovered Mihn Mang Royal Liqueur, the Health Tonic of the Nguyen Emperor!  Minh Mang dates from 1820, and is based on rice wine, and includes 19 precious herbals; it was initially made for the Vietnamese Royal Families only! "Minh Mang's Liquor increases vitality and virility. It is a perfect aphrodisiac without chemicals, without any side effects". :-) Having enjoyed a little Minh Mang, we decided to start our stay in the Royal City with a Royal Dinner, to which I wore the Ao Dai that Dan has made for me in Hoi An! The Royal Dinner was fairly amazing, a 9 course repast with an incredible assortment of specialty dishes and fabulous presentation!
Chef Dan, enjoying a Royal Dinner!
Delightful, fanciful food presentation and delicious dishes...
Minh Mang Royal Liqueur and the Menu!

Incredible, yes?

Continuing our "Royal Tour", the next day we took a tour to the Thien Mu Pagoda (see article on Thien Mu Pagoda) and three of the opulent tombs Hue is famed for. The Pagoda was built in 1601 during the reign of Nguyễn Hoàng (1525-1613), and according to an old legend, a Holy Lady predicted a popular leader of the country would one day establish a pagoda on this hill to bring peace and prosperity to the people; this pagoda (Pagoda of the Heavenly Woman) was built to fulfill that prophecy.
The tombs, by contrast, are much newer: the Minh Mang Tomb (see article on Minh Mang Tomb) in on Cam Ke Hill, on the Perfume River. Emperor Minh Mang (1820-1841) was the second son of Emperor Gia Long, who founded the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945), the last dynasty in Vietnam’s history; the tomb is renowned for its architecture. The Tu Duc Tomb (see article on Tu Duc Tomb) is one of the most beautiful, lying in a lush pine forest, & is known as Emperor Tự Đức's (1848-83) final resting place. The Khai Dinh Tomb (see article on Khai Dinh Tomb) for Emperor Khải Định, who ruled 1916-1925, is built on the slope of Chau Chu mountain; started in 1920, it took 11 years to complete! At the time it was built, however, it was criticized for incorporating Western architectural concepts, which was considered an attempt to denigrate Vietnamese culture. The mosaics and murals throughout Hue are spectacular, and basically everywhere you point your camera there is something incredibly beautiful to photograph...
One of the interesting things was to see so many Vietnamese lighting incense and praying at the shrines by the Nguyen family tombs; Nguyen is the family name of many Vietnamese... 

The tour went by bus one way, and back by "dragon boat" down the Perfume River, which was delightful! Dan and I try to take "alternative transportation"- boats, cyclos, motorcycles, elephants!- every chance we get!

School kids on a field trip!

Apparently these were NOT tall guys...


Amazing mosaics...

It's nice, for once, not be considered"short". LOL

Swan boats...

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The following day we took a delightful, private little  dragon boat from the hotel to the Citadel...

And later that day we took cyclos from the hotel to the Imperial City, which resembles the Forbidden City of Beijing. The cyclos waited for us while we ambled through the city, and met us on the other side. We then "cycloed" through the tree-lined streets of downtown Hue, residential neighborhoods, and the fascinating market, on our way back to the hotel. We love taking cyclos in Vietnam, but it is VERY important to remember to agree on a price BEFORE the trip begins!

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On our tour of the tombs, we got to stop at a craft market to see how incense and the classic Vietnamese conical hats are made by hand, and we bought some delicious-scented cinnamon incense to take home!

Making incense sticks...

Elisse & Dan, in matching cyclos!
and conical hats...
Hue's market...

Elisse in her cyclo!

Koi pond...