|Formal decor: Trang Vi Da Restaurant is decorated with paintings and pictures of Hue. — VNS Photo
|Colourful arrangement: Com am phu (mixed rice) and bun bo ø(noodle and beef).
Trang Vi Da restaurant
Address: 89B Nguyen Khuyen Street, Dong Da District, Ha Noi
Tel: +844 37475663
Hours: 24 hours
Price: VND50,000-200,000 (US$2.5-10) per meal
Comment: tasty traditional Hue dishes at reasonable prices
The sultry summer weather is upon us, but the heat hasn't tempered my appetite for all things Hue, which is why I decided to visit Trang Vi Da Restaurant, near Ha Noi's historic Temple of Literature.
Like the millennium-old Confucian place of learning, Trang Vi Da is an oasis of calm in the heart of heaving Ha Noi, at the far end of Nguyen Khuyen street, away from the busy traditional market and the shops selling household tools.
And as I approach the tube-shaped restaurant, a rare calm settles upon my aching shoulders, and I can hear my stomach rumble. Even the cloying heat seems to have dissipated, and the evening has become balmy and comfortable.
For a Hanoian like me, the lighter, spicier dishes of central Hue city are a perfect escape from the dust and heavy food of the north during the hot summer months. When I and my close friend enter the restaurant we are immediately greeted with a warm smile and led to a low table in the corner of the restaurant where we are served two glasses of Eugenia tea.
I am told that all the cooks here are from Hue, and that each is skilled in preparing dishes from the central region. The tea has heightened my expectations, and I, and my friend, look at the menu hungrily.
The first item we ordered was banh bot loc or tapioca-flour dumplings. It is markedly different from the dish by the same name traditionally served in Ha Noi; the dumplings are stuffed with a thin piece of pork, dried shrimp and a chewy tapioca-skin, while those served in Ha Noi tend to be bigger and plumper and with more pork inside.
Nguyeân Thu Huyen, the restaurant manager, tells us savoury cakes and dumplings from Hue are typically smaller and thinner than their northern counterparts. "They are also served on small food trays, which makes people want to eat more".
Food from Hue is very much an art form, almost a way of life – a philosophy, "a love and respect for softness and gentleness", says Huyen.
After gorging on several kinds of cake, we tucked into some grilled meat, figs and shrimp salad. My mind then turned to the main dish, and my eye caught sight of something that was designed to look like a bird.
Cha Phuong or grilled phoenix actually consists of lean pork paste, beans, carrots and egg. The deal was done, and when I tasted it, I was enthralled. My friend was equally ecstatic, and then I overheard a customer at the next table exclaim about the bun bo Hue or Hue noodles and beef she was eating.
To round things off, I ordered a small bowl of beef noodles costing VND35,000 ($1.5). And the noodles were divine. The mix of soft beef, with a spicy yet sweet clear soup, green onions, white noodles and red chilly, tempered with lotus seeds and white beans, was fabulous.
For all this, the bill came to VND350 ($17), not bad for Ha Noi. And then the manager announced that during July-August, the restaurant was giving diners a 10 per cent discount.
All I can say is hooray for Hue, and I hope the hot sultry weather continues. — VNS