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28/09/2020 - 14:02

Hue cuisine and special pairs

Hue cuisine always aims at harmony with its “classic pairs.”

Dumpling with pure fish sauce plus chili

The pair of pork, especially pork belly and tom chua (sour shrimp) is a “classic” combination of Hue cuisine. Every time my family is presented with a jar of sour shrimp, my mother immediately goes to the market to buy some pork belly.

The dish sounds simple but it makes people consume lots of rice with it. Normally boiled pork goes well with fish sauce plus a squeeze of lime and some chili, but when eaten with colorful sour shrimp, the alluring sweet and fatty taste of pork is honored.

As famous is the pair of duck and fish sauce with ginger. Since duck, especially the skin, has a strong smell, it needs ginger to shoo it off. It is a great idea to combine duck with its “cold” nature and ginger which is hot. It seems that they were born to be together.

Another classic pair is banh Hue and fish sauce. (Banh Hue is the collective name for various types basically made from tapioca powder or rice powder, shrimp and pork.) Banh loc (tapioca dumpling) is eaten with pure fish sauce plus some slices of chili, while banh nam with sweetened fish sauce. 

I once tried banh nam with pure fish sauce. Though it tasted okay, I still felt the mismatch. The soft texture of banh nam doesn’t suit the strong taste of pure fish sauce. On the contrary, the sweetened fish sauce is too “gentle” to go with the chewy texture of banh loc.

The Hue-styled fish sauce is as sophisticated as the sauce of the Westerners. Each type of fish sauce is created for a particular dish.

In banh loc, there is still another minor yet necessary combination: shrimp and pork. The fatty taste of pork is like the in-between of the hardness of shrimp and the softness of tapioca powder. 

Boiled fig and garlic make another interesting pair. Sliced boiled fig looks commonplace at first sight. But it immediately gives off an alluring good smell when added with some garlic. In Eastern medicine, the fig is “cool” while garlic is hot. Mom often says “You need garlic to make stir-fried dishes, darling.” I have tried many times and quite agree with Mom.

Bun hen (mussel noodle) is always with mam ruoc (shrimp paste). Though the dish is made of lots of ingredients, most of them have bland taste. It therefore needs a very strong spice, and mam ruoc is chosen. Mam ruoc makes other ingredients stand out.

The pair of me xung (a kind of chewy sesame candy) and tea is an exquisite combination of the sweet taste of me xung and the bitter taste of tea. Tea lessens the sweetness of me xung; in return, me xung makes tea enjoyable to drink. These two go well with each other just as beer does with bar snacks.

It is so interesting for Hue cuisine to have such special pairs, which have been put to the test through many generations of gentle Hue women.

By LE THUC DAN

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