July in Vietnam: The Imperial Capital of Hue

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

It was early morning when I got into Hue and hopped out of the night bus. A lovely long day of sightseeing across the Perfume River awaited.

00111

Here in Central Vietnam, there was a slight change in personality. Somehow I felt that people weren’t quite as hardened by war and that commerce, tourism and the free market had penetrated somewhat.

00113

The first stop was the Imperial Enclosure, a large citadel built by the Vietnamese emperors. These were largely in the Chinese style, given the vast influence exerted by their vast northern neighbour. First, I had to get past the outer moat.

00121

The walls surrounding the Enclosure were thick earthen ones with squat yet somehow very fitting gates and gatehouses built into the packed earth.

00115

And then there were the grand linkways between the various buildings topped by intricate carvings and prosperous sayings.

00120

The buildings themselves were very grand. Again, the strong Chinese influence was unmistakable, particularly in the Thai Hoa Palace, a receiving hall for the emperor.

00119

Further towards the back of the Enclosure were little residences of a slightly less grandiose nature, like the Truong San Residence, recently rebuilt after being devastated in the war. The pretty garden with rockery and pond added lots of charm to the place.

00136

I liked the little details I saw while wandering through the city in miniature. Looking up at the eaves of gates, I wondered why the decorations were made that way, whether for good luck or merely for ornamentation, perhaps to please the whim of a favoured concubine.

00134

Other decorations were more for impressing visitors, like this stone qilin (unicorn).

00123

There were also old cannon left behind from the old days. I wonder whether these were just for show or they really were meant for battle.

00116

Nonetheless, these weren’t spared the Fun with English sign of “No laying sitting on the selics.” Evidently done by someone with poor copyrighting skills.

00117

Outside the enclosure but still within the compound of the ancient city, there was plenty of living city. People carried on their daily business amidst the backdrop of beautiful lotus pond fringed by banana trees.

00133

After walking round imagining what life in ancient Hue would be like, I went to Y Thao Garden, a restaurant that specialised in imperial Hue cuisine. It had a little garden in the style of the imperial palace.

00132

The menu here is a Viet version of the degustation menu, with lots of little course that never quite seem to end. The only problem for a one-person meal was that the little courses weren’t as little as expected, as evidenced by this starter of deep-fried spring rolls masquerading as feathers atop a pineapple-carrot phoenix.

00125

Then came the less highly decorated poached prawns with salt and pepper.

00126

Followed by a slightly greasy but very yummy pancake called banh khoai. It was stuffed with meat and beansprouts and dipped in a peanut-based sauce.

00127

Next came a meat salad of sorts, a bit like the Lao/Thai larb gai. Combined with herbs and topped with ground peanuts, this aromatic mixture was eaten by scooping some up on a crunchy prawn cracker.

00128

I so full I was about to give up when the rice arrived. I thought it was going to be a run of the mill fried rice but boy was I wrong. This appeared to be fully vegetarian. The rice was cooked in a lotus leaf¬† with carrot, lotus seeds, black fungus and other vegetables. The fragrance of the dish blew me away. I don’t know what they did to make it taste so good but they sure did the right thing.

00130

Dessert was slightly less inspiring. There was only one, masquerading as table flowers. They’ve changed with the times and use plastic flower stems as the base, sticking on little soft pastry desserts. The filling was yellow mung bean, which was encased in a soft glutinous rice pastry, then painted over with some glossy jelly. It was pretty but not particularly tasty. Nonetheless, it was overall a great introduction to Hue imperial cuisine.

00131

Y Thao Garden
D Thach Han
Hue, Vietnam

[edited to include name and address of restaurant]

Seoul Eats: YongSuSan

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Another day, we had lunch at YongSuSan, famous for its classy traditional Korean fare. Being on a budget, we limited ourselves to the lower end of the set lunches, but it was enough to wow. There seemed to be endless courses of appetisers. First up were the “translucent mung bean noodles, crunchy pickled cucumber, threads of sweet marinated beef and julienne mushroom and julienne mushroom, sprinkled with black-green seaweed” and the “Kaesung style mixed vegetable salad of crunch bean-sprouts radish spinach and slices of dried persimmon.” Both were spooned directly onto our plates and after a bit of prodding and sniffing, we wolfed it all down. Which was just as well because the next appetiser was soon spooned onto our plates: “gold strands of jelly-fish with crisp pears and cucumber in a mustard dressing.” It was so redolent of wasabe that I couldn’t finish it (no picture, it looks just like below except pale wasabe green).

DSCF7209

A soft creamy pottage served with water kimchi came next. It tasted just as it looked – bland.

DSCF7210

It wasn’t too bad considering my tongue needed a respite from the early wasabe starter.

DSCF7211

For many of us, the highlight of the meal was “a plate of steamed tender pork belly chunks, served with cabbage and radish marinated in a red chili pepper.” The pork belly tasted very familiar. It also helped that fatty pork with kimchi is one of those heavenly combinations, a match made in heaven. Soon after I took this photo, the plate was wiped clean.

DSCF7213

The next dish was more of a palate cleanser: “seasonal fresh vegetable and lettus salad in a Korean dressing.” A pity that the Korean dressing seemed more like Thousand Island Dressing to me!

DSCF7214

I missed out taking a picture of the “soup with snowball shape rice pasta” as it was simply salty soup with a glutinous rice ball in it. Nothing much.

I quite liked the “traditional pancake dish a la Yongsusan” though, it was chewy like nian gao and deep fried. Not much to dislike her. The “seasonal brochette marinated in a Korean sauce” was a skewer of grilled vegetables, nothing much really.

DSCF7217

And we finally finished the starters and got to the astonishingly simple main dish. Koreans seem to have a rather strange concept of main course. Anyway, mine was “five grains of rice cooked in a bamboo bowl” with “soybean vegetable soup with various kinds of side dishes.” The wrapping was so pretty.

DSCF7219

The rice really seemed to be only five grains of grain on unpolished rice. It was an incredibly elegant wholegrain dish with rather forgettable miso  cabbage soup.

DSCF7221

Desserts were “Korean rice cake and cookie” with fresh seasonal fruits. I can’t remember what the brown thing was like except sweet. The cherry tomato encased it what seemed like the stuff from snowskin mooncakes was rather original I felt. Quite yummy.

DSCF7223

And last of all, to round off every Korean meal is the very yummy “seasonal fruits punch of variant style.” I really digged how cute the little flower shaped pear punch-out was!

DSCF7225

YongSuSan Taepyungno
Seoul Finance Center