EAT LIKE AN EM­PEROR

Royal Hue Cui­sine With Views Of The City's Sky­line

Oi Vietnam - - Front Page - Text by James Pham Images by Ngoc Tran

VIET­NAM’S CULI­NARY HER­ITAGE owes much to the in­sa­tiable ap­petite of the Hue lords. Known for their ex­cesses in all things of the flesh, the Hue em­per­ors were no­to­ri­ous for hav­ing hun­dreds of wives and con­cu­bines and de­mand­ing new dishes ev­ery day with some ban­quets said to have up to 300 dishes. This forced the royal cooks to come up with in­no­va­tive cui­sine, by some ac­counts leav­ing a legacy of up to fifty per­cent of all Viet­namese dishes.

Sadly, other than the ubiq­ui­tous spicy

bun bo Hue noo­dle soup and some cheap rice flour-based cakes sold street side, the breadth and beauty of Hue cui­sine hasn’t been well rep­re­sented in Saigon. En­ter

The Hue House (Rooftop Mas­ter Build­ing, 41-43 Tran Cao Van, D3), the new­est in the col­lec­tion of res­tau­ra­teur Huy Tran, best known for his Saigon rooftop hotspots as well as Isaan-in­spired Som­tum Der.

Lo­cated on the 10th floor roof of the Mas­ter Build­ing, Hue House opens up to a breezy space with sur­pris­ingly green views over the city, a fea­ture shared with sis­ter restau­rants Se­cret Gar­den and Moun­tain Re­treat. The dé­cor is like­wise sim­ple yet el­e­gant—bird cages re­pur­posed into lamps, bon­sai cen­ter­pieces in pretty ce­ramic bowls and lots of green­ery to off­set the sur­round­ing cityscape. The space is an­chored by a wooden pil­lared house with or­nate wood carv­ing, metic­u­lously trans­ported from Hue and re­built to house the bar and in­door seat­ing area and pro­vid­ing a rus­tic con­trast to the neigh­bor­ing high rises.

Our meal be­gan with a few ap­pe­tiz­ers in­clud­ing the Banh thap cam as­sorted plat­ter of rice cakes (VND250,000), a gi­ant plate of rice flour-based cakes, some steamed in ba­nana leaf, meant to be shared be­tween two. While all the usual sus­pects were present, it was the banh ram it that stood out, a dumpling stuffed with shrimp and pork set atop a ball of fried dough that was it­self stuffed with a sa­vory fill­ing and topped with caramelized shal­lots, dried shrimp and scal­lion oil. Also unique was the Banh da tom chay (VND80,000) which looked like a Viet­namese ver­sion of pizza—a crispy, home­made rice cracker base topped with a layer of steamed rice flour crepe for a de­li­cious con­trast of tex­tures along with shred­ded dried shrimp and a pile of fresh herbs, all to be dipped in a pun­gent fer­mented shrimp sauce.

For as many dishes as you or­der, each one will likely come with a dif­fer­ent sauce, all made in-house, adding a joy­ous el­e­ment of dis­cov­ery for the more ad­ven­tur­ous eater will­ing to live life be­yond nuoc mam.

Another win­ning sauce came with the

Cuon diep (VND95,000), a quar­tet of beau­ti­fully wrapped let­tuce rolls filled with shrimp and pork. The sim­ple fresh­ness

of the rolls pro­vided a nice ve­hi­cle for the gritty, fla­vor­ful sauce made with ground chicken liv­ers, pork and peanuts.

Other dishes on the menu high­light unique in­gre­di­ents only found in Hue, like the Va tron fig salad (VND95,000) with shrimp and pork. While usu­ally boiled, here the green figs are finely sliced and quick pick­led for a re­fresh­ingly sweet-tart ef­fect. While not yet on the menu, the BBQ-ed spare ribs (VND95,000) are a must-try ( just ask your waiter for them). Thick and meaty, the sate-mar­i­nated ribs come with a plate of crunchy greens and mixed rice, orig­i­nally grown by mi­nor­ity groups in the Cen­tral High­lands. Another spicy hit was the Hue-style BBQ beef (VND125,000) which packed a punch thanks to a po­tent mari­nade of sate, chili and tiny bulbs of hanh tam, a pun­gent onion in the chive fam­ily, all served with rice noo­dles, crunchy pick­les, plan­tains, star fruit and more sate sauce.

The Hue House sticks with the win­ning recipe of its sis­ter restau­rants—mod­estly sized por­tions at even more mod­est prices, en­cour­ag­ing din­ers to sam­ple and share, which is why we or­dered two more dishes that sounded too good to pass up—the Rice with seafood in clay pot (VND115,000), a treat for the eyes and the stom­ach with its seafood med­ley over ten­der rice boiled in chicken stock and fla­vored with turmeric, and the Banh canh ca loc (VND85,000), a hearty bowl of house made noo­dles, short and thick, like a souped-up ver­sion of udon. Where the snake­head fish is usu­ally steamed in sim­i­lar ver­sions served in the Mekong Delta, here it’s stir-fried with fish sauce and spices, mak­ing the meat chewier, which stood up well to the earthy, fla­vor­some broth.

Cu­ri­ously, the menu doesn’t in­clude desserts, but there’s usu­ally a dessert of the day on of­fer. When we vis­ited, it was che bot

loc, lit­tle rice balls in an iced gin­ger syrup with co­conut and peanut which pro­vided a light, re­fresh­ing end to the evening.

De­spite open­ing just a lit­tle over a month ago, The Hue House al­ready has some buzz to it—al­most filled to ca­pac­ity on a re­cent Wed­nes­day night when we vis­ited, a de­light­ful slice of Hue in down­town Saigon.

(clock­wise from be­low: Banh thap cam, Cuon diep, BBQ-ed spare ribs)

Va tron, Banh canh ca loc

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