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27/06/2018 - 07:54

The “mụ” Hue well-known in their time

Last month the Facebook community raised a startling question "What does the word "mụ" mean in Hue dialect? Gosh! Everybody enjoys Hue dialect but there are words that only Hue natives can understand.

Many people go to Kim Long Restaurant to enjoy the original flavor of Hue beef noodle soup.

What does "mụ" mean then?

In Hue dialect the word "mụ" has various meanings.

- Hue people say "mụ" to refer to their grandparents' sisters.

- "Mụ gia" is mother-in-law.

- Wife is "mụ vợ"; "mụ vợ tui" means "my wife". Some people would say "nhà tôi" ("my home") instead. A husband calls his wife "mụ mi"; "Mụ mi ơi" is equivalent to "Mình ơi" in the South.

- "Mụ mối" is the matchmaker. In the old days, "mụ mối" was considered an established career.

- "Mụ tra" is an old lady.

- "Mụ vú" is one who takes care of the mother and her newborn.

- "Bà Mụ" is the goddess protecting newborns. When a child is one year old, his parents perform a ceremony called "cúng mụ."

- A man in the royal family is also called "mệ" or "mụ."

- "Mụ nớ" as a noun means "that woman". As 3rd person pronouns it means “she” (for example: Mụ nớ thiệt thà lắm. (She is very honest.)

A bowl of Mụ Rớt beef noodle soup, cooked by her children with her special recipe at Kim Long Restaurant, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City.

All in all, the word "mụ" in Hue dialect mostly refers to a member in the family. That word is also used to refer to a certain woman in society in a formal and respectful way. There is also "mụ" in compound words for cursing and humiliating. Sometimes, "mụ" is completely equivalent to "bà" (Mrs.) in other dialects.

Some famous "mụ" in Hue.

There were many well-known ladies in the royal court, but this article just mentions some in the society such as mụ Cửu Ới, mụ Liếc, mụ Rớt and mụ Đợi.

Mụ Liếc was well known as a very big woman, the biggest woman at the time. She worked for Thừa Phủ Wharf, but she never tried to get on the boat because of her heavy weight. In the old times,  there was a riddle as follows: Question: "Mụ chi vóc dáng đẫy đà/ Khuôn trăng đầy đặn thịt thà nở nang/ Ăn làm răng nói làm răng/ Xích lô sợ chạy, đò ngang sợ chìm?”. ("Who owns a huge figure/With a plumb round face? Cyclo drivers and ferrry keepers all find it hardto explain their refusal, being so afraid of disaters") Reply: "Mụ Liếc vóc dáng đẫy đà/ Nặng gần hai tạ ngó mà sướng ghê/ Phần trên phía dưới đề huề/ Ngồi xe, xe xẹp, ngồi ghe, ghe chìm”. (Mrs. Liếc with her obese body/Nearly 200kg heavy, truly entertains our sight. Both the upper and the lower parts are equally fat. Carrying her, motorcycles would have flat tires, boats would sink.)

At Mụ Đợi Restaurant, diners can add spices as they wish.

Mụ Rớt is the owner of a renown beef noodle soup restaurant in 1960s-1970s in Gia Hội. The restaurant had no sign, but was always full of diners thanks to rumours. Noodle soup here was the best on earth and served in not-too-big bowls to conform to Hue table manners. Her bowl of beef noodle soup was a combination of white noodles, well-proportioned beef, thinly-sliced beef, red chili, green spring onion and transparent and aromatic broth. Mụ Rớt beef noodle soup is among the foods that Hue people forever miss, just as they miss their mother's food. Vương Hồng Sển, a famous Vietnamese scholar wrote in his book Missing Hue Dishes: "What a strange woman! Since the bowl was too small, I ordered a second. When I began to realize how good it was, I decided to eat some more, but she suddenly called out "It's out". What a pity she passed away." There was also a riddle about mụ Rớt: “Mụ chi nổi tiếng ầm ầm/ Chưa đi đã té, chưa cầm đã rơi/ Ngày nay mụ đã qua đời/ Mà trong thiên hạ lắm người mượn tên”. ("A very famous lady who has passed away but many people usurp her name/ Who was she?" Reply: "Mụ Rớt nổi tiếng ầm ầm/ Ngu Vien, Gia Hoi ai nhầm được tên/ Tiếc thay phần số không bền/ Chu du thiên cảnh sống miền thiên thai/ Thế gian thương mụ nhiều tài/ Bún bò tên mụ ăn hoài chẳng no”. ("Mu Rớt was so famous/Everyone in Ngu Vien, Gia Hoi knew her/What a pity she passed away so soon, rambling in Heaven/We’re sorry for a woman of talents/Beef noodle soup named after her was too delicious to stop eating.")

Mụ Cửu Ới was well known for her tobacco in 1960s. Not only people in Thua Thien, inhabitants in neighboring provinces such as Quang Tri, Quang Nam wanted to buy her tobacco as well. The intriguing thing was she bought tobacco from Cam Le Village in Quang Nam, brought it to Hue and as if by magic, she made people get addicted to it. For nearly half a century, her tobacco was familiar with many families in Hue.

Those "mụ" have all passed away. In Hue, many beef noodle restaurants now hang the sign Mụ Rớt, but here you find just the name. Fortunately her children still preserve her recipe and sell her beef noodle soup on Tran Quang Dieu St. District 3, Ho Chi Minh City.

At present, there is mụ Đợi selling banh canh (another kind of noodle soup). The restaurant was originally located in an alley on Dao Duy Anh St. With no sign, but it has been existing for nearly 35 years and attracted lots of diners. The special thing of this restaurant is that noodle soup is cooked while the diner is waiting to make sure about the freshness. For that reason, it takes quite some time and the diner has to wait, hence the name of the restaurant (Mrs. Waiting). Food is kept very little, which proves suitable for Hue eating style. What is more, the diner can adjust the flavor of his bowl by adding spices provided such as salt, pepper, seasoning powder, chili paste, spring onion and coriander as he wishes.

Mụ Đợi noodle soup is now very famous and sold in some other restaurants on Nguyen Trai St. and Ngo Gia Tu St. too. However many people would rather drop by the original one.

Story and photos: Vo Trieu Son

 

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