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Lotus takes pride of place in Huế's royal gastronomy

Update: September, 20/2016 - 09:00
Cơm hấp lá sen (Steamed rice with lotus seeds, wrapped in a lotus leaf). photo
Viet Nam News

Hà Nguyễn

The lotus holds a special place in Vietnamese hearts, culture and history. The lotus flower is Việt Nam’s national flower. Every part of the lotus plant is valued for its elegance, medicinal qualities and culinary properties.

Traditional Vietnamese literature also honours the lotus: “In the pond, nothing’s more beautiful than lotus."

So it’s no surprise that dishes showcasing the lotus are beloved throughout Việt Nam.

Among the Royal City of Huế’s many lotus dishes are its specialities: Cơm hấp lá sen (Steamed rice with lotus seeds, wrapped in a lotus leaf) and Chè sen nhãn lồng (Lotus seed pudding with longan).

These noble dishes were the food of kings in the 18th century during the Nguyễn Dynasty. They are considered the pinnacle of Huế’s cuisine.

These two dishes are very satisfying. They are also medicinal, harmonising vitality, tranquilising emotions and cooling the body, says Nguyễn Đắc Xuân, 90, a historian specialising in the history and culture of the Nguyễn Dynasty.

Xuân knows these dishes well. His grandfather was a musician at the Huế Imperial Palace.

Unlike Chinese imperial palace foods, known for their luxuriousness and authentic recipes, Huế’s royal foods emphasised culinary artistry and expertise in combining foods and arranging flavourful, aromatic creations artistically, says Xuân.

Cơm hấp lá sen (Steamed rice with lotus seeds, wrapped in a lotus leaf)

Cơm hấp lá sen is arranged like a blooming lotus flower wrapped inside a lotus leaf with rice and lotus seeds.

“This creates perfect harmony between cuisine and nature,” Huế culinary expert Hoàng Thị Như Huy says.

To make cơm hấp lá sen with a deep lotus flavour, Huy uses boiled water to cook the rice. The challenge is keeping the rice in a lotus flower shape, while the lotus leaf remains green.

The dish is now so popular that it is served at weddings and birthday parties, unlike in the past when it was only served to the king.

Nguyễn Văn Học, a Huế resident, thinks of the dish as the work of a talented artisan who creates the rice with cool, fragrant and attractive colours. "The lotus seed scent is deeply imbued into each soft rice grain and mixed with the sweet flavour of chicken, shrimp, lotus seeds and other ingredients, all mixed together to create a very unique and aromatic flavour," he says.

Chè sen nhãn lồng (Lotus seed pudding)

Lotus seed pudding is the most popular dish in Huế and throughout Việt Nam. The ingredients are simple: lotus seeds, longan, and sugar. But “this is still an enjoyable dessert desired by many," says Huế culinary expert Tôn Nữ Thị Hà.

No one knows exactly when the dish was created. But the elderly in Huế say lotus seed pudding is hundreds of years old. The simple ingredients of the dish have played an important role in defining Huế’s cuisine.

These days, Hà Thành (the old name for Hà Nội) serves lotus seed pudding, too.

But Huế pudding still features unique characteristics because it uses fresh local ingredients.

"Huế lotus has a nutty flavour and Huế’s small longan is crispy and lightly sweet," Hà says.

Chè sen long nhãn (longan lotus seed pudding). Photo

In the past, royal cooks often ordered longan from Kim Long District, famed for its very sweet, scented fruit.

Making lotus seed pudding is a sophisticated process to ensure that the boiled lotus seed wrapped in longan remains as white as a pearl.

“The pudding is often eaten in summer to cool heat inside the body, to reduce stress, and to improve the health of children and the elderly, especially people lacking sleep,” Hà says.  

Trần Văn Kiều of Hà Nội’s Hai Bà Trưng District says the pudding is both luxurious and common and it is enjoyed by everyone from high-ranking officials to labourers.

Cơm hấp lá sen (steamed rice with lotus seeds, wrapped in a lotus leaf) is served at:

Hà Nội:

§ Nét Huế chain

   71 Nguyễn Hữu Huân Street. Phone: (04) 3795 7272

   189 Hàng Bông Street. Phone:  (04) 3938 1795

    83 Trần Duy Hưng Street. Phone: (04) 3557 8383

    43 Mai Hắc Đế Street. Phone: (04) 3944 9769

§ Huế Dishes

   179 Phố Huế Street. Phone: (04) 7106 6601

   77A Trần Hưng Đạo Street. Phone: (04) 7106 6602

   316 Bà Triệu Street. Phone: (04) 7106 6605

HCM City:

§ Cố Đô Restaurant

   361 An Dương Vương Street. Phone: (08) 3835 0442

   367 An Dương Vương Street. Phone: (08) 3835 0442

§ Huế Dishes 

   178A Pasteur, Bến Nghé, District 1. Phone: (08) 7106 6652

   11 Lê Thánh Tôn, Bến Nghé, District 1. Phone: (08) 7106 6606


Chè sen long nhãn (longan lotus seed pudding) is served at:

Hà Nội:

§ Đinh Café

   13 Đinh Tiên Hoàng Street, Second floor

§ 1A Bát Đàn Street

§ 93 Hàng Bạc Street

§ 4 Hàng Cân Street

§ 14 Thiền Quang Street



§ Chè Hẻm

   17 Hùng Vương Street

§ Chè Sao

    60 Phan Chu Trinh Street

HCM City:

§ Cố Đô Restaurant

   361 An Dương Vương Street, District 5. Phone: (08) 3835 0442

   367 An Dương Vương Street, District 5. Phone: (08) 3835 0442










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