Central Vietnam

#nguyenlifegivesyoulemons

Do you know someone who is Vietnamese with the last name Nyugen?  It is a powerful name in their culture.  Do you know why? 

The prominent Nyugen family founded the last successful Vietnamese Dynasty in the 16th century. The Nyugen Dynasty was retained in Hue and controlled central Vietnam. It was a powerful name that was adopted by the people during the Empire's time of rule.  Everyone wanted a strong family name and many even changed their name to reflect the royal connection but also, the Emperor had many many many children that beared his name. 

Actually, the Emperor sounds like a real womanizing narcissist with his 104 wives, strict rule, and demand for a different meal every day of the year, but certainly he should be recognized as the driving force behind the refined royal cuisine comprising of many bold colorful dishes and innovative techniques of Hue. 

The Imperial cuisine 

Not completely but much of central Vietnam was spared from the tragedies of war.  Hue is in the center of Vietnam and revered as a royal base and place of origin for Imperial Cuisine. 

It's all about color, flavor, and QUANTITY. 

The Emperor demanded 3 meals per day with an assortment of 50 small dishes to enjoy. Because of the King's demand for variety, the cooks had to push the culinary boundaries and become masterful at multi course meals.  He also ate last. Just in case the staff was trying to poison him. 

Here are some specialties of Hue 

Cao Lầu

Cao Lầu means "second floor", or higher level, which is where the Emperor liked to eat.  This is a dish that is served at room temp and differs from many other types of noodle dishes.  There is no broth but rather this specialty is enjoyed with a sweet, sour, spicy, pungent, sauce that binds the flavors.  The most important part of cao lầu is the noodle.  The noodle contrasts the traditional rice flour noodle and incorporates special well water from the region that is combined with lye and stoned rice paste.  If you don't have this noodle, it's not cao lầu.

This culinary classic usually has sliced pork, lettuce, herbs, and crispy seasoned crackers for crunch.

Cao Lầu : Hue, Vietnam

Cao Lầu : Hue, Vietnam

Lets talk Yin to your Yang.

Bún bò Huế - Hue style beef noodle soup

Bún Bò Huế : Huế, Vietnam

Bún Bò Huế : Huế, Vietnam

This is a complex layering of flavors that creates exceptional balance of spice, salt, sour, and sweet, with a dominate note of lemongrass. 
Hot vs cold. A proper bowl of bún bò Huế exudes heat from chili that warms your core and sweats you out to cool you down.  The broth is simmered low and slow with beef bones, oxtail, and/or shank and shrimp paste to bring out a certain depth.  The noodle is particular as well.  The classic vermicelli rice noodle is a bit thicker and more substantial than other noodle soups found in the region.  Beef brisket or pork leg is often the main protein and sometimes has congealed pigs blood that adds a texture similar to tofu.  Banana blossom, sprouts, and herbs brings this dish together and adds a unique dimension of flavor.  My sister-in-law Chi Thu makes the best Bún bò Huế around. Hands down.

Bún Bò Huế : Huế, Vietnam.  This bowl of bún (noodle) was made by our sister Chi Thu (Sister Thu).  Her chili oil is superior to all.  Thai reps her recipe but it's one of those things, like Heinz or Hellmann's, if you know who makes it the best then there is no reason to re invent the wheel.  What makes it all the more special is that she uses fresh lemon grass to cool the heat from the dried chili.  Her broth is CLEAR, and she lets the flavor from the bones and aromatics shine.  

Bún Bò Huế : Huế, Vietnam.  This bowl of bún (noodle) was made by our sister Chi Thu (Sister Thu).  Her chili oil is superior to all.  Thai reps her recipe but it's one of those things, like Heinz or Hellmann's, if you know who makes it the best then there is no reason to re invent the wheel.  What makes it all the more special is that she uses fresh lemon grass to cool the heat from the dried chili.  Her broth is CLEAR, and she lets the flavor from the bones and aromatics shine.  

Bánh bèo - steamed mini rice flour (and water) dumpling. 

Too bad I didn't take any amazing pictures of this dish that is often served with dried shrimp, scallion confit, or dried pork. Sweet and sour flavors from the nuoc chấm (flavored fish sauce with chili, garlic) compliments the silky dumpling.  You will have to wait for Chef Thai to re-create to see these beauties.

I do, however, have a picture of this gem.  Imperial cuisine is full of decorative and edible garnishes.  This skill level may be beyond Chef Thai tho. 

Bún Bò Huế : Huế, Vietnam

Bún Bò Huế : Huế, Vietnam

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Weird Stuff

Weird stuff made tasty!

LOTS of EATS here that most of us, at least growing up in America, may have never experienced.  For me even as a kid, the weirder the better, and now I am constantly introduced to new flavors, textures, and animal parts cooked with many creative techniques created in the culinary world of Vietnam.  

Balut : A developing duck embryo.

These are found all over the streets of Vietnam and should be enjoyed as a snack throughout the day.  The egg is usually between 2-3 weeks old before boiling it to a prefered temperature and texture is achieved.  

It can be pretty scary to look at.  In fact, the first time I had to man up and take one for the team and try it, I thought I was going to DIE! I saw a beak! But, I have tried it a handful of times since and as long as I have lots of fresh lime and chili salt to dip it into, I quite like it.  I'm not going to lie, the texture and flavor is DANK.  But if you can adjust your mind the flavors become tasty and interesting.  If Thai ever puts it on the menu, I'll ensure that there is plenty of Vietnamese Coriander as a refresher as well.  Now that I think of it, we have the coolest cups made by cousin Vu in Vietnam to serve them in!

On the other hand, those from all over Southeast Asia that have grown up with this being a traditional street snack know this to be a special delight to appreciate.

Snake!

Not sure this will end up on the menu but it is worth a mention as "weird stuff".  This was prepared many ways.  You are a real bad ass if you take down the still beating heart in a glass of whiskey or down a straight shot of warm blood.

"Snake heart puts hair on your chest", said an old Vietnamese man with lots of hair on his chest.

"Snake heart puts hair on your chest", said an old Vietnamese man with lots of hair on his chest.

This is dad taking down the heart like a true champion.

This is dad taking down the heart like a true champion.

The snake is cooked in a flavorful light broth with rice noodles and vegetables.  The skin texturally compliments the fibrous flesh.  You can also eat it with your hands and dip it into one of the many dipping sauces like, chili/lime/salt, or fermented fish sauce.

Wok the snake and add it to a salad with fresh herbs and peanuts.  Eat it with toasted rice crackers.

Wok the snake and add it to a salad with fresh herbs and peanuts.  Eat it with toasted rice crackers.

Whelks: various types of sea snails or mollusc particularly larger ones.

These big guys have been steamed and are prepared to receive a spicy, sweet, dipping sauce from the heaven's.  Add a little citrus and brighten that bite right up with some fresh herbs and chili then fish them out with a toothpick.  The texture is slightly firm with a nice soft bite and should never be rubbery.  I have also seen Chef Thai stuff and bake these with a farce of it's own meat, ground pork, and herbs. I remember when he took them off of the menu at Embeya, our guests were so upset!  

Mud Creeper Snails

These are Mud Creeper Snails that are simmered in a mild coconut curry broth.  It is an interactive dish and I encourage you to dig in fingers first and either suck the snails out, like the professionals, or dig them out with a tooth pick.  Sip some beer, and hang with some friends while picking at a big bowl of sea snails.  That's the best way to enjoy these guys.

Sea Snails

The entire country of Vietnam hugs a body of water and fresh fish is available in abundance.  We always make our way to the beach for a day filled with beautiful views, warm sun, and fresh fish caught right out of the ocean.  These are snails that are steamed with lemongrass and aromatics.  Snack on fresh herbs, sip beer on ice or coconut water right from the coconut like the locals.  Now that is a beautiful day. (Note to Adam Schulte: I vow not to actually put ice in our beer.)

This is Nick Castle getting down on some steamed street-side periwinkle snails.  If you see any professional pictures or videos while traveling through Vietnam on this blog, he is the guy we owe credit too.  Check out his sick style on insta: @bouncecastle

This is Nick Castle getting down on some steamed street-side periwinkle snails.  If you see any professional pictures or videos while traveling through Vietnam on this blog, he is the guy we owe credit too.  Check out his sick style on insta: @bouncecastle

In Vietnam, no part of the animal goes to waste. 

These are stuffed pig intestines.  Intestines are used as a casing (or conduit as we say in the architectural world) and can be stuffed with lots of different things.  The ones below are filled with coagulated pigs blood with Vietnamese coriander, perilla, black pepper, & chillies.  One is steamed and the one that is fried has pork with fat back too.  

Look, you all have to get over your fears some day.  So I suggest that you do that with us.  We would never give you anything but good eats.  I promise!