Authentic Vietnamese cuisine in Hue. 11/20/19

We experience fairly rough seas overnight which I find difficult to sleep through. So I am pretty sleepy this morning. But there is no time for laggards and we soon are on a bus to go and try the “Tastes of Hue.” The plan is to meet with a local chef and go through a market learning about the different foods in Vietnamese cuisine and then walking back to her house for a luncheon that she has prepared for us. We originally thought we were going to get a cooking class but that will have to wait for another day.

Our excursion is 6 hours long. One thing they don’t tell you in the blurb about the excursions is how long you are going to be on the bus. They just say “after a ride through the Vietnamese countryside, you will arrive in Hue…” Today’s ride is nearly 2 hours long each way. On the ride to Hue we see a different face of Vietnam. It is poor and rural. Both on the ride and in Hue we are surprised by how Third World Vietnam is.

Vietnam is mostly agricultural with rice paddies everywhere still plowed by water buffalo. Most of the housing is built behind whatever business the locals can drum up—a cafe or restaurant, karaoke bar, spare parts for machines, hair salon. The people we see are cultivating a garden, watching their children, or just sitting around. It is much poorer than we imagined.

Rice paddies along the road
Most houses appear to be one room wide. Woman working in her garden on the right, clothes drying on the left
Business in front of the living quarters, man on a motor bike. There are few privately owned cars.
Pink house with a karaoke business in front
In urban Hue the houses are closer together. Here again the living quarters are over the cafes below.

The traffic is somewhat chaotic with motorbikes dashing to and fro. Anyone who hesitates has lost the edge to get through an intersection. Our bus is enormous next to the rest of the traffic so for us the locals give way. We de-bus and meet our chef host, Hoang Thi Nhu Huy, a renowned chef and cookbook author specializing in royal Hue cuisine. First she walks us through the market describing the different foodstuffs.

Madame Nhu Huy discusses the various types of rice
Here Madam Nhu Huy points out the different peppercorns used in Vietnamese cooking
The noodle lady
Meats of all kinds are laid out in the open air market
The fish look remarkably fresh
Outside the market enclosure are women selling green-skinned oranges and dragon fruit
Here a woman, in the iconic Vietnamese conical hat, is selling everything from chubby carrots to shiny eggplants and prickly bitter melons. (Bitter melon, good for your health!)

I have to admit that I am somewhat put off by the smells and the fact that I see a large roach crawling among the dried noodles in a package. I am glad when we exit the market and proceed to Madame Nhu Huy’s house for lunch. And what a lunch it is! Obviously she has been cooking for days to put together this feast. We sit at communal tables and Madame Nhu Huy comes around to explain each dish and drink.

Phoenix egg pancake and pate starter. The yellow “feathers” are egg pancakes. The egg pancake is also wrapped around a chicken pate in the tail
Poor John has caught a cold but is still a pretty game eater and drinker
Chicken and fig salad served with crispy pancake
Mackerel served in a shredded crispy rice wrapper
The only dish I was so-so about is short rice served two ways, steamed and fried with shrimp
Just when you think you are done, a bowl of pho with five color noodles that she has made by hand
Dessert is fruit. This is a sugar or milk apple
I really liked these small fruits. You peel them and inside is a segmented fruit that looks like lichee. (Landsat)

John, who has taken prodigious notes throughout the meal, has become a favorite of Madame Nhu Huy. She is so excited when he stands up and is so much taller than she. She insists on a picture with him and her assistant wants one too. She is a teacher and thinks that maybe John is one too because of his notes. The Vietnamese people are very friendly and affectionate.

Little Chef and Big John
The Chef holds her cookbook so we can take a picture

Now it is back on the bus for the ride back. I immediately fall asleep until we get to our rest stop which is at a cafe on a small lake. It has western bathrooms which is the main reason why we stopped there.

When we are get to the ship and are back in our room the phone rings and it is from the kitchen. The head chef wants to meet with us. We set up a meeting at 5:30 PM. The head chef, Eslam from Turkey, wants us to know he is so sorry for the bone incident yesterday, are we okay, and what can he do to make it up to us. He tells us he would do this for any guest but I think maybe they are afraid that we will sue or something. Can he make us special lobster or a special dessert? I ask if he can move up our 9 PM reservation at the Italian restaurant to 8 PM. Of course, no problem and we will get a special dessert plus we can have reservations at any of the specialty restaurants on any day we want. We feel a little embarrassed. The main reason we said anything about the bone was to alert them about it not to get anything special.

When we get to the restaurant, Manfredi’s at 8 PM, they are falling all over themselves to be nice. The restaurant manager says they have been looking forward to our visit and take us to a table by the window himself. The head chef comes over to make sure we are happy and we get quite a delicious special dessert.

Our special dessert—deconstructed baklava with vanilla ice cream sitting on a base of pistachios

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