Hong Kong has its dai pai dong - casual, semi-open air eateries which serves a plethora of cooked dishes, oftentimes catering to the customers’ specifications or requests, although the particular eatery would be well-known for its own specialty dishes which their customers would specifically come for.
A week ago, we had our first experience of a casual Hue eatery, a quan com, which offered a range of freshly-cooked dishes to order. Bờ Ao Quán was as casual as they come, with a mix of families with children, and boisterous beer-drinking office colleagues having an evening out. In typical Vietnamese-style, we sat on footstool-sized “dinner chairs”, which could present quite a bit of a challenge, as we were to be there for at least a couple of hours.
But the food - oh, the food - they were simply amazing!
Gà Nướng Muối Ớt (Salt-grilled chicken) - this was their signature dish, a whole splayed chicken, rubbed with a freshly-ground turmeric-shallot and a sprinkling of salt-and-chili pepper powder, before being charcoal-grilled. The aroma of the grilled chicken floated like a delicious pink cloud over the dining area, making us drool even as we waited for our order. It took nearly two hours from the time one placed the order, to the time the slow-cooked chicken arrived at the table, so the wait could be excruciating, but for the fact that we had other dishes which arrived first.
Freshly-grilled chicken being cut up and plated.
The platter of grilled chicken was topped with fresh basil leaves and served with a tongue-searing chili dip. Vietnamese chilis outrank Singaporean/Malaysian ones by half a million on the Scoville Scale!
Ếch Nướng Muối Ớt (Salt-grilled frog) - these were large bullfrogs, given the same treatment as the chickens, and was another house favourite. I actually preferred the frog over the chicken.
Đậu Hũ Nướng Nấm Hải Sản (Baked seafood in foil) - this dish arrived in a cloud of steam. Tightly-sealed in foil, and served on a heated hot-plate, we opened the package to reveal a mix of tofu, squid, mushrooms, red peppers and other condiments. Personally, I though it was a bit bland. Didn’t see any other types of seafood in there.
Lươn Om Chuối (Eel stew with plantains) - a light, curry-style stew. It’s served with warm baguettes to soak up the gravy. The flavour’s pretty turmeric-heavy and reminded somewhat of a dried version of the fish dish at Hanoi’s Cha Ca La Vong.
Cá Lóc Um Măng Chua (Catfish with bamboo shoots) - this was like Hue’s answer to Thai tom yum - fishy, spicy, sourish. The fish was very fresh and cooked perfectly. My fave dish for the evening.
We were served this soup made from the chicken livers and gizzards left over from the charcoal-grilled chicken, to which glass noodles were added. It was delicious.
Cơm Chiên Trứng (egg fried rice) - this was very good: the rice was fried till almost crisp & crunchy.
Overall, a really good experience of Hue’s casual family-style restaurant cooking. The flavours were pretty rustic and robust, and the ambience was so “local”, you felt that you’re experiencing the everyday kind of Hue dining culture.
Bờ Ao Quán
2 kiet 106 Lê Ngô Cát, Thủy Xuan
Thành phố Huế, Thừa Thiên Huế, Vietnam