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Building a creative city brand name from culinary culture

TTH.VN - Thua Thien Hue is focusing on building itself to join UNESCO's Creative Cities Network, with a focus on promoting cultural resources and creative culture as the foundation for sustainable urban development.

Taking advantage of Chatbot to promote Hue cuisine3D digitization of Hue cuisineHonoring and promoting Hue cuisineSpreading the brand name “Hue – Culinary Capital”

There are 7 creative fields identified for UNESCO registration and network participation, including: handicrafts and folk art, design, film, cuisine, literature, multimedia communication arts, and music. Among these fields, Thua Thien Hue prioritizes the criterion of Cuisine for investigation and dossier submission in 2024.

 "Bat tran" refers to the title of eight rare and elaborate dishes reserved only for emperors and lords. The picture depicts a banquet of "Bat tran" served to emperors and lords...

The distinctiveness of Hue cuisine primarily lies in the diversity of culinary types, including imperial cuisine (royal and aristocratic), folk cuisine, and both savory and vegetarian dishes. These culinary types complement and interact with each other to create the essence of Hue cuisine.

Regulations regarding royal cuisine are documented into written texts. From ingredient supply sources, preparation methods, serving styles, to utensils; from the participating subjects at feasts to table settings, etc., all are clearly defined and strictly implemented, but subject to changes, additions, or simplifications depending on different periods and circumstances.

According to historical records, royal cuisine is associated with banquets consisting of hundreds of different dishes. The Dai Nam Chronicle tells us that Quang Loc Tu is responsible for organizing grand banquets for the court, featuring tables for welcoming envoys or feasts for newly appointed scholars. These meals are categorized as follows: Dai yen (161 dishes), Yen dat tiec (50 dishes), Ngoc yen (30 dishes), Vegetarian feast type I, II (25 dishes each).

Royal cuisine profoundly influences the cuisine of the royal residences (of the Nguyen dynasty royal family), contributing to the inheritance and variation in food preparation in the former residences of Hue. Besides, despite appearing simple, Hue folk cuisine is also intricate because it originates from the refined lifestyle of the Ke Cho people (capital residents), somewhat influenced by the intricate lifestyle in the imperial court. The folk cuisine of this region is shaped, inherited, and developed alongside the formation and development of local agricultural products.

Thua Thien Hue is considered the land of Buddhist capital (The Holy Capital – The Capital of Deities) with the presence of over 400 pagodas and nearly 250 Buddhist monasteries. Buddhism is the predominant religion of the people in Hue, thus giving rise to a fairly common vegetarian diet among residents here and providing the basis for the development of vegetarian cuisine in Hue.

 The imperial cakes and jams were prepared in a reenactment style by culinary artisan Ho Thi Hoang Anh

Currently, there is no comprehensive study cataloguing all Hue dishes (both vegetarian and non-vegetarian), with only a preliminary estimate of about 1,700 dishes. This indicates the richness to the extent of being "difficult to control" if an academic study were to be conducted to "trace the origin" or determine the "copyright" of Hue cuisine. This is also a sociological issue that reflects the intersection, interaction, and transformation in culture in general, as well as cuisine in particular.

The value of Hue cuisine is primarily associated with cultural and historical stories about the dishes. For example, stories about court activities associated with specific dishes served at royal banquets; stories about the formation of folk dishes but very distinctive, such as the "com hen" dish (rice with mussels); stories about the formation of a type of ingredient in food preparation, such as the Ngự bean compared to Bến Ngự, Thuyền Ngự...; stories about the first handbook on household management in Vietnam... always contain a cultural strength capable of captivating diners through the food.

The value of Hue cuisine is also manifested through the art of arranging and presenting dishes. Hue people have the belief of "eating with the eyes", where food must be visually appealing above all. This belief has greatly influenced visual art. Presenting a dish, arranging a dining table, from details to the overall layout, are all emphasized. Enhancing available colors from plants such as various types of vegetables, fruits combined with the color of food, the color of dishes... one can present, arrange them into "artworks" with vibrant and harmonious colors, captivating and attractive. At the same time, it includes style, service attitude, and the dining space that always interact to make diners excited and moved while enjoying the food.

Lastly, the value of Hue cuisine is crystallized from history to the present of talent and intelligence in food, creating a lingering taste that diners will remember forever. It is also the cooking method within the common framework of cooking, boiling, braising, stewing; steaming, simmering; stir-frying, frying, grilling, roasting, baking; salting, pickling, fermenting; grilling, smoking, sun-drying, air-drying... but through the culinary skills and differences in spices of Hue people that create the unique flavors of Hue cuisine. Therefore, in terms of Thuc pho cach thien, the author has a new insight: "Savory and sweet blend in the pot, he accepts being clumsy/ Eating and enjoying, thanks to his wife’s delicious seasoning".

Hue has up to hundreds of types of "che" (sweet soup), a royal banquet during the Nguyen dynasty had up to 17 different types of "che"; in Hue's folklore, there are still about 20-30 types. But there is one type of "che" that is very difficult to imagine if named - it is "roasted pork (stuffed in tapioca dumpling) sweet soup". Roasted pork sweet soup is a very unique creation, only with extremely rich imagination can one craft a formula to execute it. Many tourists visiting Hue cuisine are often curious about this dessert.

All of the above have made up the "brand value" of Hue cuisine from ancient times to the present, which has been acknowledged in the community. The branding, promotion, and utilization of this brand name as a tourism strength need to be planned into sustainable and trendy directions of the creative city.

Story: Nguyen Phuoc Hai Trung
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