A brief history lesson
Hue, in Central Vietnam, was the imperial capital of the Nguyen dynasty between 1802 to 1945. Emperor Tu Duc ruled from 1829 to 1883, and it’s him we have to thank for the city’s regal cuisine. Tu Duc was said to order 50 different dishes every meal – and desired a different meal every day of the year! When he was hosting royal parties, the menu increased to more than 160 dishes. Now that’s a lot of washing up…
Image Courtesy: flickr.com
Without the agricultural diversity of Northern and Southern Vietnam, the imperial kitchens of Hue had to show an enormous amount of ingenuity, transforming simple vegetables, eggs and fish into culinary works of art. Because of this, one of the most distinctive features of the royal cuisine was the emphasis placed on presentation. Dishes were elegantly and colourfully presented, often designed to look like animals, and with names that were designed to amused the Emperor and his diners. Even a humble bowl of rice was served wrapped in an omelette, steamed inside a lotus leaf, or laced with lotus seeds.
Today, while home cooks aren’t hovering over the stove to create 50 different dishes for dinner, the influence of imperial cuisine lives on. Hue has hundreds of signature dishes, which can be divided into three main types:
- Rustic dishes made from basic ingredients and simple techniques, such as tiny clams with rice, and bun bo Hue (spicy beef noodles), and bahn beo (steamed rice cakes)
- Vegetarian dishes that showcase fresh, dried and fermented plants. As Hue used to be a capital of Buddhism in Vietnam, vegetarian foods have become a specialty of the region
- Imperial dishes are the most noble of dishes, but these are generally only now served in luxury restaurants or at diplomatic feasts
For an authentic taste of Hue cuisine at home, try this recipe for bun bo Hue.
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