Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hue To Go!

After returning to Hanoi from our incredible trip to Ha Long Bay we boarded a train bound for Hue, the ancient royal capital of Vietnam. We had made arrangements for a soft sleeper for the 13 hour journey and arrived to find a TINY compartment car with 4 bed and yes, the train was sold out. But we ended up sharing the compartment with a nice couple from Holland, who looked as disappointed as us when we realized we were sharing this tiny room. The overnight journey went quickly, even after having to share the not-even-twin bed because we had to put our bags on the other sleeper bed. We woke the next morning to rain, but gone was the hussle and bussle of Hanoi and now we were seeing incredible lush green scenery. We quickly headed to our hotel and unloaded our packs and went in search of the open-air market on the north side of the river.Unlike the cute little open-air market in Hanoi, Hue’s market was massive with a large building with vendors and an outdoor area lined with tarps and sometimes wherever vendors could find space.This market was a hive of activity even late in the day. The sheer variety of vegetables was astounding.You could get everything from all the food you would need for dinner to kitchen wares to cook the meal to watches to the best selection of motorbike helmets we have ever seen. Now this is just one side of multiple rows of helmets.We were hoping to find some fresh fruit and we came across these. We’re not sure what these are and the incredibly heavy accent of the Hue people made it difficult to understand.In Hanoi pineapples and bananas ruled the fruits, but in Hue everything was available even the elusive out of season mangosteens – Yes!After several hours wandering the market we made our way over to the Citadel, the wall city within a city.Unfortunately much of the Citadel was annihilated during the “American War” and now it’s just an extension of Hue itself with city within the Citadel. We did come across a man making baguettes street-side. Baguette sandwiches were the one item we found readily available in Hue, they were on practically every corner.

Instead we settled for some street-side fried bananas.Lightly battered, served hot out of the oil and for something like 7¢ each. We continued to wander the Citadel area in awe of the ordinariness of the area. The only interesting thing about the area was the number of motorbike shops and what we dubbed “Electric Avenue” a huge boulevard selling stereo equipment and we’re talking expensive mixers and sound gear, it was very strange. We soon realized we were in a more residential part of the Citadel where very few tourists stray and we came upon the most wonderful bakery.The bakery had the first appetizing looking selection of sandwich fixing and we bought one for 35¢ - we know, insane. We also bought some cream puffs and some pate chaud.
We took our goodies and headed towards the river to enjoy with some tea and coffee.

After wandering the gray city of Hue we began to wonder if there is any good food in this town, we had read it has all become very “tourist-friendly” and the selection we found to be ordinary and even the famous Bun Bo Hue (beef noodle soup Hue-style) was bland, boring and uninspired. As we headed out for dinner we were worried we were going to have to eat the mangosteens and baguettes we had purchased earlier for dinner. We found a few restaurants stating they served “Hue Cuisine”, but as we looked at the menu the “Imperial Cuisine” we were hoping for was the typical variety we could find anywhere. So as we headed towards another sign advertising Hue Specialties, but we could smell the strong aroma of Indian food and realized next door was a restaurant called Omar’s Tandoori Kitchen. Both restaurants were filled with tourists (not a good sign), the Indian restaurant’s menu advertised your typical Northern Indian foods (if it had been Southern Indian Cuisine that would have interested us a little more) but the deciding factor was the Indian man greeting people at the door, the Indian man at the cash register and the Indian man in the kitchen.

There was also one item on the Indian restaurant’s menu that made us decide to go in - “House-made tomato soup” which was so good we paused after every bite to see if we could determine what was in it and after every bite another spice or herb would come to mind. The soup was phenomenal.The restaurant was also very expensive with prices listed in US dollars. We were breaking the cardinal rule by not eating the cuisine of the country we were in, but Hue proved to be littered with average food. So we decided to split the set dinner of 6 items including tandoori chicken, a lamb curry, a masala, garlic naan, rice and a banana lassie.The meal was really good and we couldn’t imagine one person eating all that food. The staff was Vietnamese and very appreciative a Vietnamese person was in their restaurant, each person made a point to say something to us and provided us with a card in hopes we come back tomorrow.

Side note: Up until this point everyone thinks Anne is either Japanese or Korean, either because of her skin color or nose or shoes. People look so surprise when we asks questions or respond in Vietnamese and from that point on are treated very well and given a better deal than other tourists. On the flip side when they find out Anne is Vietnamese the sob stories come out and pleading to buy something to help them out and how their health is bad and how poor and hard their lives are. It's been a difficult journey at times because we want to help everyone and know that the cost of a beer could really improve someone's livelihood.

1 comment:

Tuan said...

Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww...mangosteens, sorry it's just that it's awwwwwwwwwwwwwww...mangosteens. It must be in the genes, cause when I was in Vietnam people thought I was Korean. So, you guys enjoy your precious sunny beautiful warm weather, while we try and get by with our first snow storm. YEAH, white Xmas, that's what I'm talking about.