Once the imperial capital of Vietnam, the small, genteel city of Hue (pronounced “Hway”) is renowned for its elaborate cuisine—a legacy of the 19th-century emperors who lived here and reportedly feasted on 50 different dishes at every meal. Hue’s fare continues to place a premium on fresh ingredients, impeccable presentation, and Vietnam’s spiciest, earthiest flavors.
At Huyen Anh Restaurant, overlooking the Perfume River, order a locally brewed Huda beer, grab a pair of chopsticks, and dive into a bowl of bun thit nuong, made with vermicelli noodles, grilled marinated pork, fresh herbs, and peanut sauce. Mu Do (Red Lady) Restaurant, in the old Gia Hoi district, is the place for banh beo—dainty, half-dollar-sized crepes topped with dried, deep-fried pork skins and tangy sweet-and-sour sauce. And just outside the Thuong Tu Gate of the landmark Citadel, a fortified three-square-mile city at the heart of Hue, the Le family has been cooking banh khoai (crunchy open-faced crepes topped with shrimp, pork, egg, green banana, fresh mint, and peanut sauce) at its Lac Thiên Restaurant since 1965.
After you’re sated, hire a xich lo (pedi-cab) or bicycle and explore the Citadel’s quiet, tree-shaded streets. Inside the ramparts, the Hue Museum of Royal Fine Arts features a collection of Nguyen dynasty finery and furniture, and the Imperial Enclosure holds timbered palaces, tiled-roof pagodas, and the former apartments of the Queen Mother. Across the river, settle into La Résidence Hôtel & Spa, an art-deco dream that housed the French governor in the 1920s. You can try fashioning banh khoai at the hotel’s Le Parfum restaurant, which offers “Cooking for Kings” classes—though you’ll prepare far fewer than 50 dishes. —Christopher R. Cox
This appeared in the May/June 2010 issue.