Culture Culture

22/02/2018 - 10:13

Made in... Hue and What is from Hue

With thirty years living in my hometown and thirty-five years living elsewhere, I still often regard Hue as a cradle of culture and affection for myself and for Hue people everywhere else.


For this Year of the Dog 2018 Spring issue, I was asked by the editor to write an article with the title “Made in Hue”! My first question was "What is from Hue?" The images that quickly come to mind when thinking of Hue are the natural scenery, the quiet life and the frugal lifestyle of a humble Central region of Vietnam.

On my travels in the big cities of the world which have high populations of Vietnamese people, I was able to find Hue through restaurants and shops with typical signs of Hue, such as Hue beef noodle soup, Hue sesame taffy (me xung), Hue poem conical hats, Hue ao dai, Hue embroidery paintings and Hue’s purple hue. Very gently, Hue has settled into the heart of the nation. What is "made in Hue" is also "made in Vietnam".

On the journey of expatriation, there is no Vietnamese who is not deeply touched when finding amongst the range of commodities from countries around the world, something made in Vietnam.

When I was in Hue, Hue people rarely brought Hue across the Hai Van Pass or cross the My Chanh River. If you wanted a poem conical hat or if you wanted to eat Van Cu noodles or Hue mussel rice, then you have to come to Hue. Perhaps thanks to this rather conservative spirit, that today, from the South to the North of the country, Hue is one of the few cities that can still keep its old ways.

Today, Hue people are like flocks of birds flying all over the world. Wherever there are a couple of Hue families, forms of expressing "Hue's identity" come into life, such as Hue group, Quoc Hoc High School group or Dong Khanh high school group.  It can be said that, the most valuable baggage that Hue people bring with them to a new land is more spiritual in value rather than material. It is the Hue style. Hue culture and the pride of inheriting Hue’s heritage are passed down through the generations of Hue expatriates.

Hue style is the most typical feature in Hue culture. It is a gentle way of dealing with different situations: Someone may be a businessperson, a college student, a manicurist, a gardener, etc. in different countries, but the "Hue style" of each person requires that he/she be tolerant and work in a careful and unrushed manner. This means that the typical style of Hue must be modest, conservative, and harmonious in relation to the object.

Dining and living style of Hue people have also become legendary because Hue was the capital of the Nguyen Dynasty. The food, the costumes, the art of women getting ready, the way the middle-aged women “nag”, the patriarchy of men with higher social status (from the imperial court to the everyday commodities) from the different places of the country had come to Hue. However, they had been screened, processed, seasoned and intricately trimmed to match the taste and the style of the noble, educated families.

With food, more attention is paid towards quality rather than quantity. The pickled shrimps and crab paste from the South were modified and processed in a new style. Even the “poor” dishes such as mussel soup and leftover rice from last night’s dinner could be prepared into the unique Hue mussel rice. Hue beef noodle can make the internationally famous gourmet Anthony Bourdain come to Dong Ba market to eat and declare: "This is greatest soup in the world."

In addition, Hue’s sausage cakes (cha), different types of rice cakes (banh beo, banh nam), tapioca cakes (banh bot loc), glutinous rice cakes with crunchy croutons (banh ram it), and so on are also the elegant dishes with bold flavors. Hue cuisine is favored not only by Vietnamese but also by people around the world.

Travelling deep into the serenity of life is the spiritual beliefs. The spiritual and religious life of Hue is both ancient and modern, helping to maintain the balance of inner and outer life. From Thanh Noi to the areas of Nam Giao, Kim Long, An Hoa, Bao Vinh, Gia Hoi and Vy Da, almost every house has a solemn altar inside and some small shrines outside the house.

In particular, Hue Buddhist temples often bring a sense of purity and sanctity. When going abroad, the spirit of Hue Buddhism is shown more distinctively in every locality and circumstance.

Hue’s unique accent is also an interesting topic. When far away from home, Hue dialect is not developed in broadness but in depth.

The dictionary of Hue language by Dr. Bui Minh Duc, reprinted in its third edition in 2009, with two volumes in a total of 2,050 pages in large print and small letters was the result of 18 years of dedicated work and has become a unique linguistic phenomenon. There has been no dialect, even at home and abroad, at the level of a province or a capital city, that has enough richness to be gathered in a work with such an encyclopedia- like nature.

If you ask a person who has lived far from Hue for more than half his life "What is from Hue?", the answer is not simple, because Hue not only has many tangible values but also the "spiritual products" perceived through feeling and consciousness.

Story: Tran Kiem Đoan

Photo: Hanh Phuc