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What to Eat in Hue, Vietnam — And Where to Find It

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Hue is one of Vietnam’s most beautiful cities, and it happens to be the historical capital of Vietnam. It’s a place steeped in history, and it’s also a modern city with some great food and a few interesting locales for you to explore. The first thing you should do in Hue is explore the town itself, as the sights of the city blend well with its local food and culture.

The 12th century citadel of Hue is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but like many other historic sites, it has been damaged by the country’s turbulent political climate. In the past, Hue was known as the “pearl of the East” for its unique architecture, but today, the once-thriving city is a shadow of its former self. While the iconic citadel is difficult to visit due to current security concerns, the surrounding city is still worth a look. Hue’s long history has left behind a rich cultural heritage, and the city is home to a large community of ethnic Vietnamese, ethnic Khmer, and ethnic Chinese people, who all live harmoniously in this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The food in Vietnam is one of the most interesting and interesting things about the country. Hue is the former capital city, and it’s where emperors used to live. Now it’s a provincial city, and there’s not a lot of culture here. But it can be a fun trip. There are lots of great restaurants in Hue, as well as Pho. With a location on the coast, it’s often a great place for seafood.

On my first day in Hue, I walked from the South Bank over the bridge into the ancient city, across the Perfume River and into the mist around the Citadel. My mission was to track down banh ep, a tiny disc of tapioca or cassava flour squashed between two hefty iron plates and sold on the side of the road. My mid-afternoon rewards in Saigon were a mishmash of various tasty treats, but banh ep remained elusive.

Hunger pains struck before I reached the ancient city’s gates. A soup stand is never far away in Vietnam. And sure enough, when I stepped into Tran Hung Dao street’s concrete, I saw a conical hat and Vietnamese pyjamas underneath me. I retraced my steps back to the Dong Ba market, looping beneath the bridge and checking the pavement to avoid potholes.

A grandmother sat on a low plastic chair, a beatific grin on her face, preparing a modified version of Hue Bun bo, the spicy beef soup famous in the city.

what to eat in hue vietnamOn the side of the road, Granny’s bun bo Hue

One of the numerous xe om drivers in town was at her side. He sprang up with a start when he realized I wanted a ride. I shook my head, irritated by the stomach rumbles.

“Hue Bun bo?” says the narrator. I inquired, pointing to her metal soup pot.

Her head snapped back in astonishment, and she broke out laughing as she glanced at the driver.

I sat in a small chair, watching as the motorcycle taxi driver gave me one final puzzled glance and jumped on his bike, skillfully spinning it full round and driving off into the haze. While waiting for Granny to finish making my bowl of noodles, my gaze was drawn to the continuous stream of motorbikes that crossed the bridge and spread out, almost smoothly blending into the numerous gaps in the ancient city walls.

I finally discovered the banh ep, but not that day. I made the error of walking instead of using a motorcycle or bicycle, and by the time I began zigzagging through the narrower streets in search of a little handwritten sign, it was dark. My snack window had passed me by. Later in my stay, I returned, screeching to a halt when I saw the unmistakable flatiron set up by the side of the road.

banh ep in hue vietnamBefore being flattened, Banh ep

“Hue is a city of ghosts, memories, and spirits in various ways.” Anthony Bourdain (Anthony Bourdain)

My visit to Hue was a last minute trip, one that I booked gleefully the evening before my flight. Despite having spent several seasons in Saigon, I never made it up to this former capital. I first read about Hue’s history when I arrived in Vietnam in 2012 and then pored over the details of the city’s rise as I planned my food walks.

It, like many other Southeast Asian towns, passed through a succession of kings and invaders. The Cham monarchy was the first to arrive. They were pursued by the Chinese, who took Hue on numerous occasions. It was ceded to what was then known as Dai Viet (now Vietnam) in the early 1300s, and subsequently became a key power of the Nguyen lords when their feudal dynasty rose to prominence in the 16th century.

Emperor Gia Long (born Nguyen Phuc Anh) seized control of the city in 1802 and made it the capital of Vietnam as a whole, giving him authority over both the north and south of the nation. Hue was a smarter place to govern because of its central position than Saigon, which was more distant. He constructed the imperial city’s 11-kilometer-long walls, which were surrounded by water. The Purple Forbidden City, patterned like Beijing’s actual Forbidden City in the center of the city, is housed inside them.

Moat outside the Imperial City's walls, HueOutside the Imperial City’s fortifications, there is a moat.

When the French took over Hue, the South Bank, across from the Imperial fortifications, became their quarters, with houses along the Perfume River’s right bank. The city was subsequently controlled by Japan from 1940 to 1945, and the capital of Southern Vietnam was relocated to Saigon in the years that followed.

As if the conquering and surrendering cycles weren’t enough, the city has gone through many more after WWII ended. Several years in a row throughout the Indochina conflicts, furious protests erupted in the city center. Hue, which lies immediately below the Demilitarized Zone, was also severely bombarded during the Vietnam War (known as The American War here) (DMZ). Many imperial palaces and temples were destroyed, and the fighting during the Tet Offensive were especially brutal.

In his show notes for his recently-filmed Hue episode, which I have yet to see, Anthony Bourdain writes:

Many individuals went missing, and their corpses were never found or recognized. The inability to locate a relative’s bodily remains is a particular source of grief for Vietnamese.

Of course, I came to Hue for the cuisine.

In Saigon, I spent many a night eating central Vietnamese food — giant snails stuffed with pork and mushrooms and steamed with lemongrass; banh da xuc hen, a baby clam, lemongrass, and chilli dish served with a giant rice cracker to scoop up the delicious seafood; and banh beo, tiny rice flour disks shaped like lily pads, circular and symmetrical, topped with shrimp and pork skin. However, dining at the source is always different, and street foods vary greatly from one city to the next. Aside from that, I needed to add to my “doing x in x” list.

It was impossible to avoid eating bun bo Hue in Hue.

Bun Bo Hue for breakfast in HueBun bo Hue

In my enthusiasm, I contacted my buddy Cam for restaurant suggestions, and he responded with a PDF of a hand-drawn map and a list of places he ate. I was anticipating a weekend of food tasting and market exploring. I wasn’t expecting to feel as if I’d entered a weird other realm full of weighty memories that weren’t mine and nights of restless sleep.

I intended to create a food guide, but although eating healthily, food was an afterthought throughout my stay in Hue. It was completely out of character for me, yet I felt a weird weight of the city’s history during my stay, one that made me think about how to write this article.

Every morning, I awoke gasping for air, still strangled by the last terrible grip of a horrible nightmare. I had nightmares of family members committing suicide, war, drowning, and fleeing through endless woods. I’d pull myself out of the curls of slumber only to discover the remains of those dreams following me around all day, weighing heavy on my shoulders while I searched for nourishment. When I forgot about them, a tiny nook or a certain tree limb might trigger a claustrophobic memory. I’d be OK until the blood began to flow from my face, like if my nightmares were pursuing me during the day.

It may sound absurd to claim that I was haunted the whole time I was there, but I would be lying if I said otherwise. Throughout my stay around the ancient city, the hair on my arms stood on edge, frightening me. I don’t usually get weird dreams, and I’m not particularly bothered by historical angry spirits. But my weekend in Hue was a strange combination of fullness in my stomach and total befuddlement about the anguish I’ve just recently been able to dismiss.

Despite having seen terrible locations that have experienced much worse tragedies than Hue, something inexplicable had a profound impact on me.

Hue, VietnamOn the ancient, moss-covered ruins of a colonial home on Hue’s South Bank, there is an altar.

* * *

I landed in the city late from Saigon and awoke to a heavy rain the following morning. The hotel manager looked out the window at the torrents of rain and remarked, “Sad weather.” “But you can still eat!” she exclaims. I was asked what tombs I wanted to see and what plans I had for the impending visit the night before, while I shivered in the lobby waiting to complete checking in. My response, that my aim was just to explore and sample Hue’s specialties in order to acquire a sense for the city, was not what the hotel had anticipated.

They were taken aback. “You mean you simply want to eat?” they inquired.

“Well, eat, stroll, and look around the marketplaces. However, the majority of my time is spent eating.”

Confusion soon changed to excitement that morning, and by the time the rain had subsided a little, I had a list of sites to see and some tips on what to expect.

My first stop was Dong Ba market, where I learned more about what was being offered on the street and what cuisine was available for people going about their morning errands. The market was a jumble of booths and colors that spilled out of the dimly lighted concrete structure that served as its heart and onto the surrounding streets and alleys. A lady selling live chickens and bananas at the water’s edge tried to rudely put one of the squawking birds inside a wire mesh cone as I approached.

I saw she was eating breakfast as well, and as I crept closer on tiptoe to avoid startling the chicken, I decided out what my first meal would be: banh canh, a crab and tapioca noodle soup that I used to eat often in Saigon.

Hue Dong Ba MarketChipotle, lime, garlic, and shallots are among the ingredients. You can’t go wrong with this.

Morning market, snack, lunch rush, snack, early dinner, nightmares were the order of the day in Hue. I concentrated on the smaller appetizers, like as banh ep, that I couldn’t get at Hue restaurants in Saigon.

On the third day, I rode my motorcycle far into the ancient city, where I became totally lost in the winding lanes. Past the dark Citadel, with its red flag flying against a gloomy sky, past the restaurant and hotel suggestions, past everything that seemed familiar. The expressions on the faces of people approaching me changed as I walked further into the area, from interest to bewilderment to unfriendliness. People stared at me as I curved around a reservoir and stopped the bike to check my whereabouts on a map. While I found the Vietnamese people to be very polite throughout my travels in Vietnam, I was obviously intruding on a section of the city that few Westerners visit, and I did not feel welcome.

I turned around and headed back toward the Citadel, stopping at a bun hen (rice vermicelli noodles with baby clams) stand to recover from the trip. The remains of houses around the stall were covered in moss and mildew, with yellow walls straddled by the roots of gnarled trees reclaiming what was once theirs.

As the rain started to pour, I carefully ate my bun fowl.

What to eat in Hue: Bun hen Hue’s streets are littered with bun hens.

On my last day in town, the only item I had yet to find was banh tranh trung, a rice cracker ‘pizza’ that was a popular street snack. Much like banh trang nuong, a grilled rice paper snack that I wrote about in my early introduction to Saigon, this iteration involved a sheet of rice paper, ground pork, and fried shallots. The difference was in the egg — a full chicken egg in Hue, and a small quail egg in Saigon — and several of the toppings that went with it. As the minutes ticked down, I walked the grid next to the Citadel, peering down side streets in search of my that final bite of food.

Finally, just as I was ready to give up, I came upon a tiny sign on the side of a dead-end street. A small cart filled with eggs, bananas, rice crackers, and other goodies stood next to the sign, with two laughing schoolgirls seated on tiny stools observing the scene.

Success.

Banh trang trung in HueBanh trang trung as a full-fledged pizza

It was just as crisp and savory as it should have been, and I lost count of time as a result. Midway through, I jumped up after looking down at my phone. I was in the wet alleys of ancient Hue, dreamily nibbling on a rice cracker, waiting for my flight back to Saigon, which was in less than two hours. I raced off, pressing 10,000 dong into the vendor’s palm, and cutting diagonally toward the Citadel to go back to the bridge. I felt the mist dissipate both in front of me and in my thoughts as I dashed over to the South Bank. My nighttime anguish blended into the history of the location almost quickly, as if the weekend had been a dream.

*

The nightmares ended as soon as I returned to Saigon.

I confided in a Vietnamese buddy a few days later, disturbed by my emotions in Hue.

She replied, “Oh, that makes great sense.” “My parents warn me about going out late at night in the ancient city because there are so many ghosts.”

This seemed to be the incorrect response.

“What are you trying to figure out?” she said as I searched for alternative explanations. I was exhausted. I was starving. The rain had an effect on me. With a gentle shake of her head, she ridiculed me.

I’m guessing my North American brain is at a loss for words. My efforts at perfectly logical answers appeared to my buddy to be a waste of energy in this culture, which has a ghost month in lunar July — read this article about the curse of the roaming spirits — and my attempts at perfectly rational explanations seemed to me to be a waste of energy.

I’m relieved that the dreams have ended and that, despite them, I was able to eat a lot in Hue. Perhaps this is something I can put up to spending a lot of focused time in a rural area I adore, much to my experience during the Snake’s inauspicious beginning.

For anyone planning a trip to Hue, I seem to be the only non-Vietnamese acquaintance who has experienced torture there. For those planning a trip soon, may your days be full with food and adventure, and your nights be restful.

-Jodi

What to Eat and Where to Find It in Hue, Vietnam

These restaurants do not reflect the entire range of Hue cuisine, but they were ones that I liked and discovered on my motorcycle and food adventures throughout town. Many people suggested banh khaoi restaurants that used wheat flour, therefore I propose the same restaurant as the nem lui for the gluten-free version, which uses only rice flour. As a consequence, it’s less crispy, but it didn’t make me ill.

Banh ep and banh trang trung

Open from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at 14 Le Thanh Ton Street. (Old town)

food guide for hue vietnamAfter it has been leveled, Banh ep.

Bun hen and com hen

Where: As shown in the photo. Small stand at 27 Le Thanh Ton Street that is open till 8 p.m. (Old town)

Bun thit nuong nuong nuong nuong nuong nuong nuong nu

Here’s a picture of it. Where: Dinh Tien Hoang Street, 244 Dinh Tien Hoang Street, tiny stand that opens after 12 p.m. (Old town)

Banh khoai, banh beo, and nem lui

Where: 11 Pho Duc Chinh, Quan Hanh (South Bank)

where to eat in hueNem lui, grilled pig flesh wrapped around lemongrass sticks.

Bun bo Hue

(I’m saving the most well-known for last since you’d be remiss if you skipped the others!)

Where: Tran Cao Van Street, 38 Tran Cao Van Street, only open till 9 a.m. (From the South Bank)

best bun bo in hue vietnamTran Cao Van street is where you’ll find Bun Bo Hue.

Eat from the banh canh women who serve from metal pots along the market’s perimeter for Dong Ba Market. For a bowl, choose a busy one and snuggle close to the ground.

Please check the following links for additional information about places to dine in Hue, Vietnam:

Additional Vietnam Resources

For additional historical context, here are some ideas:

My recommendations for food books are as follows:

In cities around the world, diners have been learning to appreciate street food. It’s a way to enjoy the local culture while eating a more varied diet. But if you’re headed to Hue, Vietnam, food isn’t always available on the street. For many, there’s not even a chance to enjoy street food. Here is a list of popular Vietnamese foods you can find at various restaurants, cafes and street vendors in Hue.. Read more about ancient hue restaurant and let us know what you think.

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The most famous food in Hue is the banh mi.”}},{“@type”:”Question”,”name”:”What is Hue food?”,”acceptedAnswer”:{“@type”:”Answer”,”text”:”
Hue is a type of food that is often found in Asian cuisine. Its a mixture of rice, vegetables, and meat or seafood.”}},{“@type”:”Question”,”name”:”What is the best food to eat in Vietnam?”,”acceptedAnswer”:{“@type”:”Answer”,”text”:”
Pho is a popular dish in Vietnam. Its made with beef, rice noodles, and vegetables.”}}]}

Frequently Asked Questions

What is famous food in Hue?

The most famous food in Hue is the banh mi.

What is Hue food?

Hue is a type of food that is often found in Asian cuisine. Its a mixture of rice, vegetables, and meat or seafood.

What is the best food to eat in Vietnam?

Pho is a popular dish in Vietnam. Its made with beef, rice noodles, and vegetables.

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  • hue restaurant
  • hue cuisine
  • hue restaurants
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