Huê, in central Vietnam, was the imperial capital, ruled by the Nguyen Dynasty for over a century before French colonization really took over, forcing the emperor to abdicate in 1945. The city is particularly known for its imperial citadel – what’s left anyway after the Vietnam War and resulting neglect by the communist regime. When visiting, stay on the southern bank of the river, walk around the imperial citadel, then grab a motorbike and explore the tombs – the magnificent final resting places of emperors. But, what also makes Huê unique is its cuisine, with vestiges of its royal past. Best eaten at the daytime or night markets, or any roadside stall that strikes your fancy.
Dong Ba Market
On the northern bank of the Perfume River, this market resides in a labyrinth-like building, filled with flowers, food and assorted goodies. Park your bike on the east end for a fee.
Bun bo Huê and Nem lui
The picture below is from before mixing in the fish sauce and hot sauce, so the soup may appear a bit bland. But, do not be fooled. Bun bo Huê is a spicy beef soup, with lemongrass, pork hock and chiles. And yes, these meat skewers, or nem lui Huê, had some maggots on them, but just brush them off (or eat them if you’re into that and need some extra protein). Kim Chau, the lady serving these dishes (and pictured above), served Anthony Bourdain, and is very proud of it. I met up with her two days after Bourdain’s death, and we shared a moment remembering his legacy.
This market sets up along the southern bank of the Perfume River around dusk, by Câu Truòng Tiên bridge.
A thicker, smaller version of its southern cousin bánh xèo.
A dessert pudding made with your choice, or the server’s choice, of beans, fruits, jellies and other gooey, brightly colored ingredients. These can include mung beans, kidney beans, black eyed peas, tapioca, taro, grass jelly or longan, but it is almost always topped with coconut milk and ice.
Other items not to miss:
Bánh nam and Bánh loc goi and Com hên
So, confession. I missed all of these. But this link has some recommendations for places to try them in Huê.
Bánh bèo chén
These are small, round rice cakes topped with dried shrimp and pork crackling. Delicate and bite-sized, these rice cakes were meant to be eaten by royals.
What to do when you aren’t eating:
- Ride a motorcycle. Everywhere.
- Imperial Citadel
- Khai Dinh Tomb
- My favorite of the royal tombs. Built on a steep hill out of dark grey stone, Khai Dinh’s funerary complex is foreboding. But, if you make it up the steps to the room where his tomb lies, you will find a sparkling room fit for a French king.
- Minh Mang Tomb
- Tu Duc Tomb
- Thien Mu Pagoda