These are steamed rice cakes, about the size of a silver dollar, that come five to eight pieces to an order, topped with dried shrimp, pork cracklings, shallots and herbs and served with a dipping sauce, steamed and served in small ceramic saucers.
Yet another delicious steamed rice savory cake, this time flat, with a mixture of fried ground shrimp, pork and scallions pressed into the surface before it’s wrapped in banana leaves then steamed. I guess this dish is kind of similar to the other dish I order.
I can’t pronounce the town correctly but I sure can enjoy the food. Full disclosure I have been prouncing the name of this city incorrectly before I arrived to Vietnam. I always thought it sounds like view when it really sounds like way. Lesson learned. I am in Hue Vietnam after a short morning flight from Hanoi.
They have their own particular flair on many dishes. There are many fried and unhealthy things but when in Huế…..
First stop is to try some local dishes at Hanh Restaurant. It is around the corner from my hotel and a great place to try out many different Hue style dishes.
Banh Khoai – Savory fried pancake (pork, shrimp, green onion) served with peanut sauce
After lunch I do some wandering around town. Hue is nice and quiet during the day. Like many cities it gets lively at night with the walking streets. I tend not to stay out late but I do my best to try a little bit of nightlife while I am here.
During my walk I find a great park with interesting modern sculptures (Park February 3).
After dark it is time for walking streets. The streets are blocked from cars. Pedestrians, vendors, and diners are out. For some reason there are a bunch of street fires. It is not cold so not 100% sure the purpose of these.
It is almost Halloween and some restaurants celebrate with spooky decor.
I stop in a cafe to get a beer, morning glory, and a bowl of Bun bo Hue. The soup isn’t the best version that I will try in Vietnam but it is good enough for dinner. I am happy for the huge plate of morning glory. I rarely get to eat greens like this when I am traveling.
The crowd gets thicker at all the cafes as time goes on. I shop a little bit then head back to my hotel. I have a tour of Hue booked for the next day.
As part of my junk boat cruise package they offer an optional Vietnamese home-stay experience. Because my travel taste tends to favor local experience I decide to take advantage of the package. After I am picked up from my cruise I am taken to the Yen Duc village to experience Vietnamese life for a short while.
Many cruise vans stop by the village I am visiting for a water puppet show only. I ride with the group to the village but I am watching the puppet show the next day before I get picked up to return to Hanoi.
Instead I am taken to my room by electric cart. Usually there are more guests but tonight I am the only one. It is awkward because all the attention is on me but also I can cater the experience to exactly what I want.
My host takes me to my huge room. I relax there a bit after some welcome tea.
I am visiting during rainy season so we wait for the showers to end before going out for a bike ride around the village. I don’t bring my phone or camera on the ride for fear of rain so I get no pictures of that experience.
First stop is a local lady who has a 190 year old house. She lives mostly alone due to losing her husband years ago and her kids live out of town. She tells me of the family reunions that happen every ten years. She also explains the alters and offerings and how they worship a dead patriarch of many generations ago. She shows me her amazing family tree that now numbers more than 200 from a single ancestor , even going back when multiple wives were common. We talk about her garden and her house. Some of the plants in her garden I have grown in Florida in the past (my home). She is very nice.
Next I learn how to produce rice. After harvesting rice has 2 layers to remove (brown rice just has one, the hull, removed). White rice is the same grain but has the hull, bran layer, and cereal germ removed.
A circular machine is used remove the outer layer shell, or hull.
Then rice is put into baskets to shake to remove the shell. It is an art. You shake and twirl to separate and use a jerk motion to knock the shell pieces out of the basket.
Then remove the second layer by bashing using a large mallet thing. It is a workout.
Finally I shake again to remove the rest of the bran and germ. It is an art. It is also hard work. I didn’t realize how much went into producing rice (and I didn’t even get to see it harvested). Rice is sold so cheaply all over the world and it takes so much manual labor to produce it.
After learning about rice we take bike ride to go fishing. In the village they do farm fishing in ponds. They grow the fish in ponds and use a basket method to catch the fish when it is time to cook it. I get a demonstration by the local fisherman. He plunges a wicker basket into the water in different areas in order to try to entrap a fish. This motion is done quickly all over the pond. Now it is my turn I walk into the muddy pond with water pants. I try and try and try but I couldn’t catch a fish of my own with the basket. I am assisted with catching one but I do have to stick my hand in and grab it put it in the basket. I hope this is something I would be able to master in time because right now my survival skills are lacking.
After fishing we ride back, there is finally great weather and I have great views of the rice fields.
When we return I get to roll my own dessert. Sugar cube, mung beans, dough and sesame. I can’t wait to try it later. I make a note to research all the cooking of mung beans. I forgot that I used to like them.
I go back to my room and cleanup but notice a huge spider chilling on my shower curtain. I am from Florida and we have a fair share of spiders but I am still scared of it. When I arrive at the dinner table later I tell my host about my fear of the spider. A staff member (who is small and petite) happily goes into my room and removes the huge spider with her hands. I am in awe. It is probably no big deal to her but I am impressed.
Soon I am served dinner like a queen (sorry forgot photos). One of the highlights is the morning glory at that like sautéed spinach.
I mean to go for a bike ride on my own in the morning but decide to relax instead. I always try to take my downtime when I can because things can always feel so fast-paced when traveling.
In no time at all it is lunchtime. Squid is on the menu but I am able to “swallow them down”. Again it is not that I don’t like squid, I actually do, I just don’t want to eat it all the time. I wish I had written down everything else I consumed, because it is all cooked well.
Soon it is time for me to watch the water puppet show. While I wait for the puppet show I take one last walk around the area.
Water Puppet Show
The puppet show starts with some singers. They sing a lovely song while they float around.
Soon the performance begins. The puppeters are behind the screen and are very skilled at acting out scenes with the puppets. A band plays music beside the stage.
After the show ends I head back to Hanoi for a second visit. More on that later.
I am heading on Junk boat cruise. A junk boat is a Chinese style of sailing boat typical to Vietnam. They are very popular these days for leisure cruises on Ha Long Bay. The cruise company I chose (Indochina Junk) sails on the Bai Tu Long Bay. The Bai Tu is adjacent to Ha Long. It looks similar but is only open to a couple tour companies whereas the Ha Long tends to get packed on a daily basis with many tour boats.
The day before my cruise I take it easy; I walk around Hanoi and make sure I am all ready for my cruise.
I order some chicken soup while I am out. (Sorry I did not note where I got this lovely soup but I believe it is west of the lake).
Start of Cruise
A van picks me up early from my Hanoi hotel. There is wifi in the van but I have a hard time getting it to work. We will be without internet for a couple days so I would have liked to do some last minute catching up but I end up “checking out” early I guess.
On the way to the boat terminal we stop at a tourist trap plus snacks and booze place. I buy some snacks and a bottle of wine for the boat (fortunately I am still holding onto that wine bottle opener I bought many months ago!).
I check into terminal and we get assigned in small groups and wait more. There are multiple cruises leaving therefore many small groups are waiting around. The terminal has a couple places to eat and small convenience store. I stock up on some things like wet wipes.
Finally our group is called and we walk out to our tinder boats.
We enter from the back bottom of the boat. We are instructed to meet in the indoor dining room to get our room assignments. My room happens to be on the bottom floor toward the back of the boat. I can feel the movement once the boat starts the engine but it is not enough to get me sea sick (sometimes I get a tiny bit nauseous when I look out the window when the boat is moving).
Time to eat lunch. We eat lunch and dinner on the outside deck and breakfast inside in the mornings.
I haven’t been in Vietnam very long but on this cruise is where I begin my dislike of squid and prawns. I normally like both squid and prawns but on the ship we eat it for almost every meal. I get tired of both quickly.
After the meal I walk around the top to soak in the nice view before I return to my room to prepare for our kayak excursion.
This afternoon is one of two kayaking adventures the boat offers. I like to kayak but don’t tend to go out too much. The kayaking trip they offer seems like a great opportunity to get out on the bay. At the loading area it is almost all tandem kayaks with only a couple singles. Because I am one of the few people alone on the cruise (and the only single person participating in kayaking) they give me a single person kayak. It is a sit-in which already puts me at a disadvantage (slow for me) but also since I am in the shorter kayak, I struggle to keep up the speed I need to keep pace with the group. The times I am able to just paddle at my pace and view the scenery I enjoy but unfortunately I feel pressured to constantly play catch up with the group instead of enjoying the moment. Plus my shoulders already hate me from the stress of my backpack and day pack and traveling. Now my shoulders are about to totally go on strike. Me not being able to enjoy the moment is a shame because it really is beautiful out there. I really wish the experience was set up so they have a kayaking zone where everyone can explore at their own pace and then they can round us all up when it is time to go back.
Also I did not even notice until a friend later commented that I am missing the hatch cover. (LOL) I could have sunk! At least I had a life vest.
After a tiring kayak adventure I go back to my room to clean up for dinner. Wandering before dinner, I eye the pool but never get around to using it. It is just a small little pool anyway.
Of course more prawns and squid. I enjoy the mackerel and the dessert tonight.
One of the staff members has a flute performance for us. The two main boat activity guys seem to be jacks of all trades.
I believe there is an evening squid fishing adventure but I pass for the night in favor of early retirement. This isn’t exactly a party boat either, evidenced from the plethora of children that are aboard (many of the them unhappy but more about that tomorrow).
First stop is for Bún Chả (Rice Noodles with BBQ Pork). There is a vegetarian version of the soup if needed but I did not come all this way to not try the dish in its original form. It is delicious and well balanced. The pork meatball and soup is served separately from the rice vermicelli and herbs. You assemble it all together at the table. Cozy tells us about how this dish is different depending on if you order it in the north or south Vietnam (It tends to be more spicy in the north and sweeter in the south). I have another new favorite.
Egg coffee is made from egg yolks, sugar, condensed milk and coffee. It is delicious but very rich. I would probably drink it as a once in a while treat.
Bánh mì is pretty familiar to me because we have them back home. The one served here is pretty tasty.
We learn a Vietnamese cheer and then try happy water (rice wine) or rượu và.
3. Dried Beef Salad “Sexy Salad” (Nộm Bò Khô) at Long Vi Dung
No.23, Hồ Hòan Kiếm Street
At a small outdoor restaurant where we sit on little chairs Cozy introduces us to what she calls “sexy salad” (Nộm Bò Khô). It is a dried beef salad made with shredded green papaya. The papaya is not sweet so it all makes sense. I am eating raw street vegetables (a big gastrointestinal no-no) but I don’t care. The salad is good. It does not seem to give me problems later on so I would not be opposed to coming back to order this salad again.
4. Steamed rice Pancake or Bánh cuon at Quán Bánh Cuốn Bảo Khánh
No.14B, Báo Khánh Street
First we watch Bánh cuon made by the women outside then we go inside to have the pancakes served with dipping sauce. Main ingredients of the pancake are rice batter, ground pork, wood ear mushroom, and shallots. They are a nice snack.
5. Vietnamese Fried Cakes (Pillow cake, salty donut, sweet donut, fermented pork)- Đồ rán at Bánh Gối Lý Quốc Sư
No.52, Lý Quốc Sư Street
Some are savory, some are sweet but all are good. I would like to come back sometime and order a whole plate of this for myself.
6. Fried rice and Spring roll (Cơm rang & Nem rán)
No.65A Bát Đàn Street
Viet Spring Rolls to try their spring rolls. The wrapper is flakier that what we typical get in the USA. The rice is a nice accompaniment.
7. Sticky rice with coconut ice-cream – Kem xôi dừa
No.95 Hàng Bạc Street
We end it all with Kem xôi dừa or sticky rice with coconut ice-cream. The rice is colored green from the pandan leaves. It is a very nice treat. What a perfect way to end the evening.
I contemplate a night cap at beer street but my belly is too full so I start walking back to the hotel via the walking streets by the lake. The streets come alive at night. People are selling things, groups are dancing, people are singing; it is very entertaining.