One of the more “unusual” items on our travel itinerary for this trip to Huế is a visit to a family home, arranged by our local travel guide. It’s not a B&B, but more like a semi-formal arrangement that allowed us to experience the hospitality of a Vietnamese family for a few hours, and get to taste a home-cooked meal for a change.
So, we were brought to this largish home along Lê Ngô Cát, about 10 minutes’ drive from our downtown hotel. The Tu family has a small fruit & herb garden right behind their home, where they planted figs, bananas, and various types of herbs.
After the obligatory chat over Vietnamese-style tea, we were shown the kitchen where our lunch was prepared, then out to the patio for lunch!
It was great - like lunching at the home of relatives, and enjoy some genuine home-cooking. If you are Vietnamese, or have Vietnamese relatives, you’ll be able to get invited to enjoy something like this. But if you’re foreign visitors like us - well, we just needed this “commercial” arrangement to allow us to experience Vietnamese family life.
Our lunch consisted of:
Bánh bèo steamed saucer-shaped rice cakes typical of Huế. The rice cakes have the texture of polenta, but is relatively bland, providing the perfect foil for a savoury topping of cooked, minced shrimp, fatty pork, and scallions.
Bún bò Huế - perhaps Huế’s most famous contribution to the rich Vietnamese food universe. Mind you, out of an estimated 1,700 uniquely-identified Vietnamese dishes, a mind-boggling 1,300 came from Huế. In a way, it showed the impact of the old imperial Nguyễn dynasty on Vietnam’s culinary world - much of the more elaborate creations, even pickling of seafood or vegetables, were to satisfy the demands of the royal and aristocratic classes in Huế.
Bún bò Huế differs from the more prominent Phở Bò in a few ways: bún is a rounded rice noodle, whereas phở is flat, much like spaghetti vis-à-vis fettucine. Bún bò Huế, despite its name (literally, “Beef noodles from Huế”), actually gets its broth from boiling pork bones. The beef part is where good quality sliced beef was added to the dish when serving.
Bún bò Huế’s broth is also spicy (never for phở bò) and has a strong lemongrass accent.
In this visit to the Tu family home kitchen, we could see how the broth was prepared: there was a huge bunch of lemongrass which was the centrepiece in their stockpot.
The bún bò Huế also came with chá viên, supple orange-hued pork-shrimp balls besides the sliced beef shank, plus chopped scallions.
Plates of shredded, leafy vegetables and herbs were provided tableside, to be added into the respective bowls of noodles by the individual diners.
Vả trộn thịt ăn kèm bánh tráng - stir-fried fig with mixed meat, and served with rice paper crisps. This rather homely stir-fried dish consisted of thinly-sliced Hue figs, minced pork, shallots, Vietnamese coriander, sesame seeds, and toasted peanuts.
The cooked mixture was spooned atop rice paper crisps, which provided a lovely textural contrast, and eaten.
- Dessert was the very popular Huế sweet: bánh phu thê, which literally translated as “husband-and-wife cake”. It’s a steamed pudding made of rice flour, streaked through with fresh, shredded coconut flesh, encasing a mashed mung bean paste centre. The rather sticky pudding is contained in a container made of woven pandan leaves. These sweets used to be given as part of traditional wedding gifts offered by the bridegroom to the bride’s family. Nowadays, it’s served at wedding banquets, or at any special occasions.
We were also given bánh đậu xanh - spheres of mung-bean sweets, in colorful sweet wrappers:
It was a good experience overall, and a change of pace from our restaurant-hopping in search of good food.