Asia, Vietnam

Asia Day 15: Hue

Photo of the day: Bun Bo Hue @ Quan Cam

This morning we were on a mission – to find good Bun Bo Hue. After doing some research, we found out Quan Cam was the place to be. Apparently they are only open for breakfast and only until their broth runs out, so we had no time to waste. We decided to skip the hotel breakfast and walked over diligently at 8am. Luckily, it was close to our hotel and quite easy to find. As soon as I sat down, I ordered: “Hai (2) Bun Bo Hue!”. Then we anticipated. We patiently waited while they brought us over some chills, then some veggies, then finally it came. It was beautiful. The colour was vibrant, as I expected. There was variety of toppings, including pork blood, meatballs and a huge piece of ribs. I took a sip of the soup and was finally satisfied. This is the flavour I’ve been looking for. The rich, spicy taste of the Bun Bo Hue broth, which I’m used to. The meatball was another burst of flavours and apparently the filling was crab and pork meat. And then there was a most amazing piece of meat – the rib. I took bites and bites of tasty meat off the bone. My craving is satisfied, finally! We paid our 80,000 VND (~$4 CDN) and walked away with smiles on our faces. 

It was time for a celebratory coffee. We found a very nice cafe called The One and ordered 2 iced Vietnamese coffee. It was strong and sweet, as we expected and we just chilled there for a while, before heading off for some sightseeing.

Iced coffee (with ice served on the side) @ The One
Iced coffee (with ice served on the side) @ The One
We decided to explore the Imperial City today. As soon as we reached outside the gates, we were harassed continuously by the cyclo drivers, who promised to “take [us] around”, “1 hour!”. No matter, how many times we said “no, thank you,” they persisted. We finally made it in one piece inside the Imperial City. It was so much nicer inside. There were a few groups of tourists but it wasn’t too crowded. Everyone just quietly took pictures, walked around, read the descriptions or attentively listened to their guides. The architecture was definitely nice and grand. The writing were all in Chinese and the costumes looked Chinese as well. I felt like I was teleported back to Ancient China, except this was modern day Vietnam. The last emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty did not lose power until 1945. The weather was perfect today. It was around low 20’s C with only brief periods of light rain. There was quite a lot to see and a lot of walking to do, so I can’t imagine doing this in full summer heat. After around 3 hours of exploring, we decided it was time for some food. We walked outside to the area around the Imperial City and found that most restaurants and cafes were closed, probably because it was already around 2pm. We found a cute cafe called Blueberry, which had quite a nice ambience. There was another group of young adults just hanging out in there. The cafe music was, interestingly, Korean pop music. We were hoping they would have some sort of food here but they mostly had drinks and maybe a couple of desserts. Aaron ordered the coconut coffee and I had the taro milk tea. They were both overly-sweetened and my taro was very artificial and really did not have the taste of taro at all. 

The entrance to the Imperial City in Hue
The entrance to the Imperial City in Hue

Seeing it was a 40+ minute walk home, our plan was then to just grab a taxi home and find a place to eat closer to our hotel. Interestingly, the area around the citadel was not very touristy and we did not really see any taxi’s. On our way home, we found a restaurant, which looked pretty busy, so we decided to sit down. It looks like they are having some family dinner all set up on the table, but they just moved it aside for us to sit down. There was a table full of meats and vegetables and I actually wanted to ask if we can just join them in what they’re eating. We decided to keep it simple and ordered some shrimp rice rolls along with some stir-fried “spinach”. Because we sat inside, where the employees usually hang out, it became on open kitchen, so it was pretty nice seeing them cook. The rice rolls were simple, with just some shrimp and green beans inside of it. It was on the sour side and was not my cup of the tea. Aaron really liked the peanut sauce though. The vegetables were delicious! It didn’t taste like spinach at all actually. It reminded me more of morning glory, then I finally realized it was actually morning glory. I guess they call it spinach here, since it’s also known as “water spinach”. Having replenished our energy, we were ready to walk the other half of the way home. We did quite well today as we have surpassed 15km of walking – a record so far, on this trip! It’s been an active day and my stomach was starting to act up, so I decided to stay in to get some rest/blogging done. Aaron went to check out another local coffee shop. 

Stir-fried “spinach” with garlic and shrimp rice rolls @ Lac Thanh

The kitchen @ Lac Thanh
The kitchen @ Lac Thanh

For dinner, we decided to try some Vietnamese-vegetarian food. There was one with good ratings on Foursquare called Lien Hoa, which apparently “had workers not really speaking English with the place full of locals”, so off we went! I guess other tourists have found out about this place because there were some locals but also some tourists as well. The “English menu” was obviously just put into Google Translate for translation because a lot of it did not make sense. We decided to order using the pages with pictures only. The picture with mixed rice platter looked good, so I got one, then we got some more morning glory, this time with mushrooms, as well as some fried jackfruit and fried “Nem”. My mom previously told me that Nem is a fermented meat, so I am guessing this was actually fake meat. First, we were given some steamed rice with fermented beancurd and chillies as our condiments. Then came the main dishes. We waited and waited for the rice platter but it never arrived. Apparently, Com Dia only means steamed rice, not the rice platter that was displayed in the pictures. That was ok because we had more than enough food in front of us by the time we found out. It was so nice to finally have some white rice. It’s been a while and the Chinese in me was screaming for a meal with just some side dishes to eat with my rice. This was perfect. The fried jackfruit was interesting. The jackfruit was cut so thinly that I couldn’t really taste it anymore. It was a nice, sweet treat though. The fried Nem was also very interesting. The outside part reminded us of the wrapper that Nina’s Cafe used for the Cha Gio the other day. Super crispy and airy. I can hardly taste the filling inside given this overwhelming outer casing. It was a good fried treat. The morning glory was again delicious. I ended up just mostly eating that with my rice. 

Fried jackfruit, fried Nem and stir-fried morning glory with mushrooms @ Lien Hao
Fried jackfruit, fried Nem and stir-fried morning glory with mushrooms @ Lien Hao

Walking around, we noticed a lot of people just having family dinners and not as many people out on the street at the street stalls. There was even a family having some Banh Chung (sticky rice) cooking ceremony. We found out it was December 23rd on the lunar calendar. This was Kitchen God Day, where people will give offerings to the Kitchen God to send away the old year and to welcome a new year. I read up on the mythical origins of the Kitchen God and it was really something – full of love, regrets and suicides. You can take a read here. It was definitely not the bedtime story I was hoping for but I ended up dozing off anyway. 

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