|Hue to try everything: Diners can taste severaltraditional specialities by ordering this sampler platter. — VNS Photos Xuan Hiep
Genuine Hue dishes, once nearly impossible to find, can now easily be tasted in HCM City. Xuan Hiep visits a restaurant that serves authentic bowls of bun bo Hue as well as other fare from the central city.
Central Viet Nam is home to an elegant and complex cuisine whose origins are in the former royal capital city of Hue. Internationally recognised for its often labour-intensive mix of flavours, these exquisite traditional dishes are hardly found elsewhere in the country.
Though HCM City can boast of a few restaurants specialising in the cuisine, they are few and far between.
But Bun Bo Mo Te restaurant hopes to dispel the notion that the genuine article can only be found in Hue.
Opening in September last year, Bun Bo Mo Te aims to introduce the aromatic herbs and spices of dishes from the country's central region.
The restaurant's star attraction is bun bo Hue (beef noodle soup Hue style).
Located on quiet Lam Son Street off Phan Dang Luu Street in Binh Thanh District, the restaurant is surrounded by a leafy garden area that adds to the relaxing and cosy ambience, even during peak hours.
|Traditional Hue: To make the restaurant's signature soup, several ingredients are imported from the central city to ensure authenticity.
Le Quang Hai Au, the restaurant's owner, told me that he decided to open the business after thinking about it for more than two years.
"I had been dying for the Hue dishes cooked by my mother, who was born there," Au told Viet Nam News.
So he opened the restaurant and asked his mother, Nguyen Thi Kieu Thanh, to be chef.
Thanh is especially proud of her native city's distinctive cuisine, which consists of traditional dishes as well as cuisine especially created for the Imperial Court.
She said that presentation was important as the cuisine should be seen as an art form with harmonising food elements and colours.
Unlike the traditional and more famous pho dish from Ha Noi, bun bo Hue is spicy with a lemongrass essence and a bit of shrimp paste.
|Green space: The restaurant's simple design features a delicate green area set against an urban backdrop.
Some foreigners dislike the smell of shrimp paste, but the Vietnamese version is good and a small amount enhances the dish.
Also, unlike pho, the noodles for bun bo Hue are round and fat. The soup is served with sides like bean sprouts, shredded banana flowers, chilli, lime and white basil.
To make the dish, cooks use pork or beef, and the lemongrass is crushed and put into boiling water, which contributes to its special flavour and aroma.
BUN BO MO TE RESTAURANT
Address: 18 Lam Son St, Ward 6, Binh Thanh District, HCM City
Hours: 6:30am-2pm and 4pm-8pm
Comment: authentic Hue cuisine, reasonable prices, free delivery
Au said several ingredients are imported from Hue to ensure the dish's authenticity.
Recently, the menu has been updated with a new dish, lau bun bo Hue (beef noodle soup hotpot).
Instead of being served in a bowl, the soup is presented in a hotpot, which allows the diners to place the noodles in the broth, thus keeping it hot.
Taro and turnip are added to the pot, which gives the soup a slightly different taste from bun bo Hue. I preferred its sweeter and tastier broth.
A small hotpot for two persons costs VND99,000 (US$4.5) while a larger portion for four is VND179,000 ($8.5).
The menu also includes a variety of Hue traditional cakes, including banh loc (rice flour with shrimp cake), banh beo (thin cake), banh nam (rice flour wrapped in banana leaves with shrimp cakes) and banh ram it (glutinous rice cake), each of which costs VND22,000 (about $1).
If you want to sample all of these, I recommend a mixed plate for VND35,000 ($1.5) and bun bo Hue in a large bowl (VND35,000-45,000) or hotpot.
The restaurant has also added vegetarian Hue dishes, and offers Hue sweet soups for only VND10,000-12,000.
|Steamy sensation: The reviewer highly recommends lau bun bo Hue, beef-noodle soup served hotpot style.
Damien Carriere, a French tourist who was having breakfast while I was there, said he liked the atmosphere. "It's very peaceful and relaxing. I love Vietnamese cuisine."
The 300sq.m restaurant can accommodate up to 100 customers during peak hours on the weekend. Au said he planned to open two more offshoots over the next five years.
Since its opening last year, the restaurant has developed a regular clientele. I can see why and it won't be my last visit, either. — VNS