Eating Our Way South - Huế, Hội An

After a great time in Hà Nội, we headed down to the central regions of Vietnam. Central Vietnam is known for its spicy dishes and unique accent - some Vietnamese just say straight out that they don't understand the central dialect.

We only stayed in Huế for two days, but tried to fit as much sight-seeing and eating in as possible. Unfortunately, I didn't think to take a lot of pictures (of the food anyway), so here's our report:

Here's a little food stall in the Đông Bạ (sp?) marketplace in Huế. The was pretty good, but the lady kept bringing stuff out and it ended up to be a bit more pricey than we hoped for. Usually food stalls offer less-expensive food. But it was good and we laughed it off.

We also ate at Tịnh Gia Viên, a nice place tucked in a beautiful garden. The head cook is from the family that used to cook for the imperial kings of Vietnam, so the food is intricately presented in the shape of dragons, turtles and other mythic animals. The presentation is great (I hear they will even dress you up in royal garb if you make the appointment!) but unfortunately, the foood seriuosly lacked in taste. Here's our favorite dish of all, nem which is a type of spring roll. Click here to see what it looked like when we were finished with it :).


To be honest, Hội An proved to be much more delightful to our palate than Huế. Here's our report:

Our first day was spent shopping, as Hội An is known for its inexpensive fabrics and countless tailor shops. The reason my wife likes it so much is because unlike the shops in Saigon, they are familiar with making clothing for "foreigners," which means they add a little to your measurements instead of take away. That means the Hội An clothing actually fits and is comfortable whereas most clothing bought from Saigon shops is ridiculously tight. Anyway, we spent longer at the shops than usual because we wanted to stay in that part of town until 8pm, for that is when Mr Noodles starts selling.

They call him Mr Noodles (that's my loose translation of "Ông Mì Quảng") because he is famous for his delicious noodle dish mì quảng which he sells in front of the fabric shops for a few hours after sundown. He has no restaurant, or even tables, but just sits down on the sidewalk with his wife and daughter amid stacks of plastic chairs (if you need a table, just put your plate on a chair!) and starts dishing out some killer mì quảng. Just get in line (which consists of a bunch of people sitting in random places - so basically just sit down somewhere) and he magically keeps track of who's next, as well as what you order and how much you owe when you're done. To me, Mr Noodles is a representation of how many people make a living in Vietnam - find your niche and work it. It probably won't be high paying or have any official position or title (in fact, he operates his business right under a sign that says "No food stalls," but it's night and the food's good so that makes it ok), but it's something.

The next day we started out for Cơm Gà Bà Buội, per recommendation of my wife's sister. It was raining and it took us 30 minutes of asking random people on the street to find it, but it was worth it. Bà Buội was is the founder of the place, which since her passing has been headed by her son. There is no menu - you just walk into the front room of the house, take a seat on the wooden bench (across the room from the dog, please) and say "I'll have what they're getting." while pointing to your neighbors. We were quite pleased. The chicken dishes are very simple - shredded chicken on rice, shredded chicken salad - but are delicious. Definitely recommended.

The locals will tell you that you have to try cao lầu, which is a noodle soup that can only be made in Hội An because they make it with special water from a special well that is only in their city. The dish itself isn't so special, just thick noodles in broth, like most other soup dishes in Vietnam. We actually went to the well and were surprised to see... a well. Tucked between someone's house and someone else's house, there's a circular hole in the ground with water at the bottom. A well. I guess I was expecting cao lầu noodles to magically spew from the well or something, but I was a little disappointed.

What locals might not tell you is to try the hoành thánh chiên (fried wontons), and even less will know where to eat them. There's a lot of places that sell this dish, but many are very disappointing. We went to one place that replaced the wonderfully sweet/sour sauce with ketchup. Probably because I'm white. Finally, on the night before we leave for Saigon, we start on a journey to find the real thing. We walked all the way down Hai Bà Trưng street until we found the place - Bông Hồng Trắng. Look at that picture - there lies the "real thing." It might look like nachos, but it's ten times what nachos could ever be.



the foodd looks so yummy. it makes me wanna pay 2k for a ticket to vietnam just to eeaatt.
annna bannana
gasp i got my final harry potter book today!! im so excited to read it after school ends. Did you know, before you left your mission, jenny van and i were gonna put together a "we'll miss you harry potter" kit with a brroom, hat, wand, etc in it lol. but we never got around to cause we didnt have money at 12 :(. sorry that was so random. have a beautiful day ben!

Jennie said...

I just realized I miss all your photo-travel journalism articles. I have a lot to catch up on.

These are beautiful pictures -- they also make me hungry. I want to try the restaurants you've mentioned when I visit!

travel log
  • 02.13.08 - to the temple with Luan and his mom, good to be back
  • 02.14.08 - Mẫu's alive! and staying for the weekend
  • 02.15.08 - floor hockey and Thái food makes for some strange dreams
  • 02.17.08 - frisbee and swamp monster at the park: fun but I'm pooped!
  • 02.19.08 - just read Triết's response to my last post - game on!
  • 02.20.08 - raining and expected to continue through Sunday - thank goodness!
  • 02.21.08 - 3-hour nap is a bad idea right before bed
  • 02.23.08 - to the beach to watch kites, a baptism @ 5pm, and homemade bulgogi - what a day!
  • 02.25.08 - just gave myself a haircut - woo, cold head!
  • 02.26.08 - 75° and spring cleaning - couldn't feel better
  • 02.27.08 - fed the elders bún đậu tonight - think it's their first time
  • 03.01.08 - working on new background...
  • 03.02.08 - finalized javascript to change background without muffing up my other scripts
  • 03.03.08 - fhe: "In his strength I can do all things" (Alma 26:12)
  • 03.07.08 - some decisions are harder than others, but some are downright excruciating
  • 03.08.08 - there is life after work... i almost forgot
  • 03.11.08 - the distance between good and bad is much shorter than between better and best
  • 03.12.08 - conversion is sometimes a gradual process, so much so that we don't even notice
  • 03.14.08 - for some reason everything was a little harder today, looking forward for bed!
  • 03.15.08 - last night after blog reading, I missed OnlyBlue, today I find she's back
  • 03.16.08 - best day of my life!
  • 03.19.08 - "Pray for the answer that they've been looking for"
release notes v1.0 - FINALLY DONE!
  • 12.07 - first thought of starting a new blog
  • 01.08 - busy with election stuff but blog design still on back burner
  • 01.13.08 - first idea to imitate jk rowling with the "desk" theme
  • 01.28.08 - start sketching current design, breaking down development into phases
  • 02.02.08 - election only days away but still drafting final plans
  • 02.04.08 - v0.6 LAUNCH
    • main components (blog body, sidebar, header, etc) designed and implemented
    • styling for font, links, drop caps, etc. finished
  • 02.07.08 - v0.8 LAUNCH
    • image style to imitate polariod
    • moveability - post-it notes and static clings can be repositioned by drag and drop
    • release notes styled and written
  • 02.16.08 - travel log (beta) added in hopes of catching the mundane
  • 02.22.08 - lightbox 2.03 reinstalled and working fine (hopefully - let me know otherwise)
  • 02.26.08 - v0.9 LAUNCH
    • travel log seems to be working, so I'll keep it
    • lightbox also seems to have passed the test, so it's a keeper
    • some credits/info added to bottom (will expand)
    • keeping old Viet terms in archive for future viewing
  • 03.18.08 - v1.0 LAUNCH
    • installation and testing of time-sensitive background completed (for now)