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 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.
Lets talk Yin to your Yang.
Bún bò Huế - Hue style beef noodle soup
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.
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.