On my last day in Hue, my fourth, the rain didn't let up until nearly noon. Not in the mood to get wet, or cold and windblown, I decided to stick around the hotel for breakfast. I was curious about the top floor buffet and thought it might offer a decent break from all the local fare I'd been stuffing myself with.
I should have gone out in the cold, windy rain...
By the time lunch rolled around the rain had let up. I had to grab lunch relatively early because of an early flight back to Saigon, so the clearing weather was lucky for me: I got to try a restaurant whose specialty dishes I really longed for.
The restaurant isn't much to look at, and from the street one can hardly tell it's a restaurant at all. Nor is there anything about the sign to indicate that these are the pearly (if moldy) gates to gustatory heaven.
I ordered five dishes that can only be had in Hue. As I've said before, Hue is famous for its food. I've heard it said that Vietnam can claim 1700 different kinds of food in its culinary repertoire, and 1400 of them originated in Hue. Is this true? I have no idea. All I know is that these foods are unique, delicious, and unbelievably cheap.
The first dish to arrive was called banh ram it. I'm not sure how to translate this, or any of what follows, so I'll do my best to offer descriptions instead.
Banh ram it is a crispy piece of deep fried rice, on top of which is heaped a fat slab of steamed rice with cooked shrimp inside. Scattered all over these are shavings of freshly cooked shrimp. The combination of textures is amazing, and the shrimp gives a lot of flavor. Add nuoc mam (fish sauce) to the dish and you'll blush at how much pleasure this gives you.
My second order was banh beo. These are tiny dishes of steamed rice topped with pork crackling, shavings of freshly cooked shrimp, and nuoc mam. These were excellent, too, and somehow fun to eat.
My third and fourth orders came wrapped in banana leaves, as pictured below. I ordered bot loc cay xanh and banh nam. Want to know what they are? Then please keep reading!
The bot loc cay xanh tasted more like the banana leaf in which it cooked than the banh nam, which made it slightly bitterer. But the translucent rice was soft and chewy, and the shrimp it contained had lots of flavor and was cooked to the perfect firmness. One pours nuoc mam over the niblet and then scoops it up with a spoon.
The banh nam was even better, in my opinion. The rice crepe wasn't as chewy as it was in the bot loc cay xanh, and the shrimp in this dish was saltier and softer. Again, one pours nuoc mam onto the crepe and scoops it up with a spoon.
The final dish, banh beo, was my least favorite. I found the rolled steamed rice crepes to be too soft, and although it comes with shavings of freshly cooked shrimp and nuoc mam I found the dish rather flavorless overall.
This restaurant was absolutely worth my effort to find, and it's not far at all from the main tourist area of Hue. Each dish cost between 15-20,000 dong (from about 90 cents to $1.20).
The restaurant is called Hang Me Number 1 Restaurant (Quán Số Một Hàng Me) and is open from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. It's located at 45 Vo Thi Sau Street; their phone number is (054) 837-341.