The best Hue dishes were once exclusively served to past emperors and royal families of the Nguyen Dynasty, but travellers nowadays can find plenty of local restaurants, roadside stalls and high-end resorts serving these specialities all year round. When it comes to Hue cuisine, it’s predominantly sweet and spicy in flavour from fresh herbs such as lemongrass, basil, red chilies, and mint mixed with the quintessential nuoc mam or fermented fish sauce.
The city also offers more than 30 types of sweet soups (che) made from coconut milk and various ingredients, including pomegranate, taro, and sweet corn. The most popular che in Hue is called lotus seeds sweet soup, which uses seeds from lotus flowers that are found in Tinh Tam Lake. Catering to just about any preference, read on for our extensive list of must-try dishes in Hue.
Bun bo hue (Hue beef noodle soup) is a regional speciality comprising thick rice vermicelli and various toppings in a thick soup. Unlike pho, this dish is a combination of sweet, sour and spicy as it’s flavoured with boiled bones and shank, annatto seeds, lemongrass, ginger, fermented shrimp paste, chilli oil, and sugar. As for the toppings, expect congealed pig blood, beef or pork knuckles, beansprouts, lime wedges, cilantro, diced green onions, banana blossoms, mint and basil. You can also ramp up the spiciness by adding fresh chillies and fermented fish sauce to your bun bo hue.
Nem lui is a kebab-like dish using lemongrass stalks, which is wrapped with marinated meat (usually pork or beef) then grilled over a charcoal stove. Diners are also served with a side of rice paper, lettuce and cucumber slices, rice vermicelli, and fresh herbs. It’s available as an appetiser at just about all local restaurants and hotels in Hue. For added flavour, dip nem lui into a local sauce made with ground peanuts, fermented beans, sesame seeds, shrimp paste, chopped garlic, chillies and shallots.
Com hen (clam rice) consists of rice topped with baby basket clams, crispy pork skins, roasted peanuts, shrimp paste, and fresh greens. Commonly eaten as a filling breakfast, the clams are stir-fried with chopped garlic, onion, fish sauce, pepper, and mint leaves before they’re poured over a plate of steamed jasmine rice. In some restaurants, com hen is often accompanied with a bowl of clam broth as well as a platter of coriander leaves, shredded banana blossoms and bean sprouts. There are plenty of food stalls in Dong Ba Market selling this Hue speciality for about VND 20,000.
Banh khoai is easily distinguished from other savoury snacks in Hue thanks to its turmeric yellow colour. Readily available at roadside stalls, local joints and markets, this open-faced crepe is typically filled with pork, shrimp, scallions and beansprouts. However, you can also find several venues offering this local snack with quail eggs and starfruit. As with most Vietnamese dishes, banh khoi is best eaten with a side of fresh greens and herbs as well as fermented soybean dipping sauce.
Known in English as steamed rice cakes, banh beo look similar to cupcakes but are topped with dried shrimp, deep-fried pork rind, shallots, rice vinegar, and fresh herbs. Accompanied with a side of nuoc mam (fermented fish) dipping sauce and red chillies, there are two variations of this local delicacy - banh beo chen is prepared in a coin-sized ceramic saucer (you can get five or six for about VND 30,000 at sit-down restaurants) while the larger banh beo dia is eaten as a main dish.
Banh loc goi, made with tapioca starch rather than rice flour, is filled with marinated shrimp and milled pork before it’s wrapped in oiled banana leaves and steamed until cooked. To enjoy this Hue snack, simply unwrap the banana leaf and dip it in a platter of nuoc mam pha, a sauce made with vinegar, shrimp stock, fermented fish sauce, sugar, and fresh chilies.
Bun thit nuong comprises rice vermicelli noodles, grilled pork, lettuce, cucumbers, beansprouts, pickled daikon, basil, mint, chopped peanuts, and deep-fried spring rolls. Priced at VND 20,000 upwards, this hearty dish also comes with a side of pickled carrots, fresh lettuce and fermented fish dipping sauce. Eat like the locals by pouring the sauce over the noodles for an extra kick of flavour.
Banh it ram is a Central Vietnamese speciality that pairs steamed sticky rice dumpling with a crispy patty that’s also made with sticky rice. Similar to a Japanese mochi but eaten as an appetiser instead of dessert, the dumpling is topped with a savoury mix of green scallions, shrimp and pork. A platter of six banh it ram dumplings costs about VND 30,000 at a local joint, but prices are higher at more upscale restaurants and hotels.
Va tron salad was once a dish prepared only for royalty in Hue, combining boiled figs, sliced carrots, mushrooms and onions with either shrimp or shredded pork. Although it’s traditionally served at such as family gatherings and weddings, there are plenty of Vietnamese restaurants offering this unique dish all year long. This particular type of green fig is only available in Central Vietnam, making it a must-try for first-time visitors in Hue. Our favourite way of enjoying va tron salad is by mixing in some fermented shrimp paste, roasted sesame seeds, and fried shallots.
Che hat sen is one of the many local desserts you can find in Hue, containing lotus seeds and green rice flakes in a sweet broth. Thanks to its cooling properties, locals often have it in the summer to combat the heat but you can enjoy this pretty much any time of the year. One of the most highly recommended dessert shops in Hue is Che Hem on Hung Vuong Street, where you can get a generous portion of che hat sen for about VND 3,000.