Riding Vietnam Day 172: Hue Too Good Food

If you are wondering what that title means, the city of Hue (dotted roughly smack dab in between Saigon/HCMC and Hanoi) is pronounced hway and not like one of the properties of color.

Now that we are all caught up let us begin the day’s recap of my adventures. I woke up and checked out my hostel to get a proper form of accommodation for the still reasonable price of $5/night. After disassembling my luggage and making the place home for a couple nights, I rode off with my motorbike for a day’s worth of sights composing some of Hue’s historic royal tombs and pagodas. Along the way another bowl of soup did the trick but I found that I had finally crossed the prohibitory line of too much fish sauce. My eagerness for the death sauce needs to be kept in check a little more thoroughly. After a quick sugarcane juice spiked with lime on the side of the road, I found myself at Chua Thien, which is a seven tiered octagonal pagoda positioned on a hill overlooking the Perfume River that runs through Hue. The pagoda has for some time aligned itself as the main symbol of Hue and its ancient city. The pagoda like the buildings in Hoi An prevent me from feeling like I am in Vietnam. The architecture and artwork is mostly representative of the Chinese style with its dragons stationed along the roofs and the Chinese-like writing style. From here, I rode over to the first of the tombs on my to do list: Tomb of Tu Doc. I had formed grand preconceived notions of these tombs to the tune of a miniature Terracotta Warriors (real deal in China). The tomb of Tu Duc is a residence and burial place built by the Nguyen emperor’s own decree in the late 1800s. Here in this natural setting with a lake at its center, pine trees all throughout, and his own small gaming island the emperor Tu Duc could bask in his luxuries with his hundred plus wives and concubines. I walked through some of the renovated buildings housing ancient style artwork while also passing the deteriorated remains of some of the pavilions. For $5 I did not find it worth it to visit. You might say $5 that is soooo cheap but when put into perspective it is a bit on the high end. I enjoyed this walk through history and nature (mostly thanks to the tree coverage from the all powerful sun. From there, I took a short cut to the next to,b on the circuit called Tomb of Minh Mang. I don’t know how my device located such a road since it was anything but that. I convinced myself and my motorbike to go through dirt and rock roads (not like with those damn Germans in the highlands; never will I pull off a stunt like that again) and ones cutting through farmland that were fully muddied by thick puddles that I kind of waddled along while continuing at a slow acceleration. Before entering and shedding myself of another thankless $5 at Minh Mang, I saw the biker gang/group who had just finished their tour of the place. Minh Mang was smaller than Tu Doc but did have some of those stone samurai warriors that I expected who were cast as defenders of the emperor in his afterlife. The grounds of the tomb are symmetrical with ponds built out on each side of the long procession of temples and shrines which lead up to the final intentioned resting place of Minh Mang. The temples had the same kind of architecture as before but I could appreciate the aesthetic dedication to building something of such form. The man himself isn’t even buried here. No one actually knows of the location of his remains since legend or story tells that the two hundred men used for the labor on the tomb were all beheaded to keep the whereabouts a secret. Another royal tomb lay nearby but after two I was content with what I had already seen. Back in Hue center I looked for some restaurants/stalls that were high recommended by some foodie websites. I had done my fair share of research on the topic of food in Asia but especially Vietnam due to my time here and the fact that it has one of the world’s best food traditions (essentially a thesis in the making). Most didn’t turn up based the address given but eventually one turned up. I ordered two Hue specialities called banh khoai and banh beo. Banh khoai is like the more well known banh xeo rice pancake pancake but it smaller and thicker while served more open faced with a peanut hoison dipping sauce. Hue dishes apparently tend to be smaller in size and offer more beauty in their table presentation. After I had been instructed by the cook how to properly go about eating this meal I dove in straight away head first. In a small bowl I scooped bits of the airy crisped pancake and its fillings (had prawns – with shells still on mind you {these Asians need to get their calcium somehow}, bean sprouts, and probably some kind of pork cooked between), the salad of fresh leaves of mint, perilla, fish mint, and lettuce, and the almighty gravy of the hoison peanut sauce. Normally I find a way to work in some fish sauce and chilies but with something so well put together I wouldn’t have dared mess with perfection. Already on cloud nine with the pancake stored away, I was introduced to banh beo. Banh beo is another specialty that can be described as small steamed rice cakes that can have a jelly/not-quite-slimy texture (sounds weird but challenges the palate with a whole new experience). They came in eight small dishes as pearly white as themselves topped with crispy fried shallots, chopped dried shrimp, and a mung bean paste. Once again I had to be taught the proper way of eating such a dish. With a dash of dried chili sauce and some fish sauce to boot, the flavors melded together quite nicely. Not until I had completed meal and backed out of the sidewalk parking space with my motorbike did I realize I had gone to the wrong restaurant. The acclaimed one sat just next door but I would have never known the difference. After lounging around to further displace myself from the heat in my air-con room, I met up with the guys one last time for some dinner. We ate banh khoai (first experience was way better!) and nem lui, which are lemongrass accented pork skewers that you roll yourself into rice paper along with some salad accompaniments and the designated peanut gravy. We were walking back towards their hotel on the side of the street since sidewalks are rarely ever an option out here (in Asia they struggle with the concept of a sidewalk; sidewalks are used to put whatever shit you want except people but to be fair I guess a lot of the pop up street food stalls need to be placed somewhere). In the midst of normal conversation I found out too late a truck decided to speed closely past me in the opposing direction so close in fact that the mirror knocked my arm back a bit. It stunned my arm which still tingled but most importantly I couldn’t get over how badly Vietnam and Asia altogether wants to harm. Luck if you can call it that was on my side once again; the truck could have very easily hurt me in a much more profound way. Still not to be bothered, I introduced the guys to nuoc mia, the freshly juiced lime flavored sugarcane drink. I will now describe it in full. When not mechanized or lacking electricity, the sugarcane and limes are churned by a pirate ship style steering wheel several times over into a fine juice that gets chilled by ice. It hits the spot on any hot day. I had to say goodbye to the gang since they planned to head out of Hue tomorrow morning while I still had another day to see the Forbidden, Imperial city, eat some tasty foods, and most importantly see a doctor about the lump that has grown just under the skin near my lower abdomen. Till then, I’m out! 
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