Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Adventures in Eating in Hue, Vietnam

Well, this is a little anticlimactic, since we've been back from our Vietnam trip for, oh, about five months now. But I was going through my camera after last week's New Orleans trip and came across a bunch of photos that hadn't seen the light of day. Thought I'd knock a few posts out over the next couple of days.

Hue, the formal imperial capital, was our favorite part of trip -- the city (while still bustling) has a more relaxed vibe and pace, and despite having a significant number of cultural attractions, manages to maintain its own identity as a city apart from just being a tourist destination.

My favorite part about Hue was how easy it was to get off the beaten tourist path -- we did this a couple times, once on a long walk, once on a long cyclo ride (we'd already seen the sights, so we told the drivers to just take us wherever they felt like), and another when we rented bikes. I've already posted some of the pics and stories but here's some more:


Dining at a sidewalk "cafe"


Here, we're sitting down to what turned out to be our most adventurous meal of the trip at a tiny little open air "cafe" way off the beaten tourist path on a quiet, shady residential street that we stumbled upon one day during a long walk.


Sidewalk "cafe"


Ta da! A cafe. Tiny child-sized red plastic chairs to sit on. Tiny child-sized blue plastic tables to eat at. There were no other customer's eating (it was past lunch time), let alone any other westerners. (We'd been walking so long, we'd not seen any other tourists for some time, somewhat of a relief.)

Since we were hungry and tired from walking, and since we'd been wanting to have a more authentic, local eating experience, this seemed like the ideal opportunity. So we sat down and pantomimed eating motions, and the proprietress nodded and ran over to her little "kitchen area" and got to work.


Sidewalk "cafe" kitchen


The kitchen was basically a charcoal brazier keeping a stockpot hot, a table to prep on, and an umbrella to keep the sun at bay.

Pretty soon, the food arrived.


Food appears


I think it was Bun Bo Hue, which we discovered later is a dish Hue is known for. Fat rice noodles in a spicy broth with hard-boiled quail eggs, dark shiny blood sausage and thin slices of pale, dense, Vietnamese sausage floating in it. The bowl of quail eggs and fresh-made shrimp chips were for us to snack on while we waited for the soup.

You may have noticed the beer upper left hand corner of the photo -- soon after we sat down, an older man, maybe a friend or relative of the woman cooking, ran over and pantomimed to ask us if we wanted beers (bia is one of the few words we picked up on the trip). We nodded yes, so he then ran across the street to a little shop and a few minutes later, ran back with two beers. He opened them, and then -- somewhat to our dismay though he clearly meant well -- he proceeded to use his fairly grimy and long-nailed hand to carefully wipe the mouths of the bottles "clean" before proudly setting them down in front of us. Then he settled back in his chair to watch the show (i.e., us eating).

Daniel and I looked at each other for a moment, then we both kind of shrugged and laughed and we drank up. We had been lucky so far in terms of food poisoning -- we'd been vaccinated against anything dangerous, and had medication back at the hotel room for garden variety food poisoning. All part of the experience. But fortunately, we both felt fine afterward.

The soup was really good, though I will admit I wasn't a huge fan blood sausage, something I'd managed to avoid trying until that point. I didn't love the texture, but it actually doesn't taste like much of anything. Somehow that was worse -- it left my mind free to think about what I was eating. :)

The whole meal, including both beers (after a quiet discussion between the cook and the beer guy) came to something like 70,000 dong, about US$3.50. No doubt more than they'd charge a local (hence the discussion), but loads cheaper than we'd been paying for comparable servings in the tourist districts.


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