Monday, February 16, 2009

Hue (Part 4)

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...

About half the tables in the buffet line. It looks nice (not counting the pink chairs with bow ties on their backs) but it was standard middle-grade hotel buffet food (served in an orange and pink pleasure palace).

Not exactly an appetizing photo. It wasn't any better in my mouth.

One big reason why I ate inside the hotel this morning: 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.

The front of the restaurant. Hardly eye-catching...until you catch sight of the food.

Inside the restaurant: again, no tip-off that great food awaits

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.

Extraordinary dish #1: banh ram it

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.

Extraordinary dish #2: banh beo

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!

Dish of rice crepes cooked inside banana leaves

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.

Extraordinary dish #3: bot loc cay xanh

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.

Extraordinary dish #4: banh nam

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.

Extraordinary dish #5: banh uot

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.

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  1. We'd love to try any of these dishes. The butterfish is most intriguing!

  2. Yep, they were good. I'm not sure what you were referring to about the butterfish, though, unless it was from a different post? Thanks for the comment!

  3. So interesting.... I really like Vietnamese food.

  4. Thank you so much for the photos. I read about this restaurant on Trip Advisor and was trying to find it's location when I came across your blog. Now I am prepared for what it looks like and won't get a shock :) and also know what to order. Thank you very much for your post!! But I still cannot find Vo Thi Sau in Google Maps. Can you give me a hint where it is near?

  5. Hi Franinmuc: Thanks so much for your comments. Unfortunately, I don't remember exactly where the street is, but it's close to most of the backpacker hotels, restaurants, and shops. From what I remember, it's set back a street or two from all of that...but ask around at whatever hotel you stay at and the staff there will be able to point it out! Enjoy your trip!