I really started to bond with Vietnam during my time in Hue, the air seemed clearer there than in Hanoi, it was certainly less humid and I was finally feeling 100% again. Yay! It was still ridiculously hot every day of course, it hit 38˚C on the day we explored the Imperial City, but when there's exploring to do you have to push through it, ignore the sweat running down your back, and get out there!
The vegan food sitch' in Hue was pretty damned amazing, we just kept getting hit after hit and we didn't even come close to checking out all of the options the city has to offer. First up was Quan Chay Tam Thien which we chose because of it's proximity to the Imperial City. The change in atmosphere couldn't have been much greater though, as soon as we stepped out of the north east gate and crossed the road away from the taxis and cyclos vying for our business we were in a quiet local neighbourhood dotted with houses and street stands selling banh mi sandwiches. There were no other tourists anywhere which was a nice change from being surrounded by tour groups tramping in unison all over the imperial city itself.
The menu was, of course, only in Vietnamese but we picked really well and ended up with a noodle dish and a fried pancake thing that was ridiculously delicious.
The noodle dish was my favourite part of the meal and I was actually grateful that the owner was happy to get all up in my business to show me how to eat it. I poured on some sesame sauce, she poured on more sesame sauce, I nibbled on a mouthful of noodles, she took my chopsticks, mixed the whole plate up for me and made me try again so that I got a mouthful with noodles, peanuts, tofu, lettuce, coriander, basil and faux prawn crackers. It was wonderful. She genuinely seemed to love having two clueless foreigners in her restaurant and I wish that we'd had a chance to return. One day.
We were still a little stuffed from our late lunch by the time dinner rolled around so we opted to stop off at Bo De during our evening promenade along the south bank of the Perfume River. Oddly certain parts of this walk reminded us of London's South Bank with pavement cafes and book stalls lining the walkway but of course it was incredibly different in pretty much every other way imaginable.
We went for a couple of super simple tofu dishes at Bo De because I just looove tofu. The steamed tofu with salt, pepper and lime was my fave' because it's so simple and so damn good. I'm pretty sure tofu's my favourite food. I genuinely don't know what I'd do without it. It's super versatile and whilst I don't often nibble on it raw I'm totally happy to which I am fully aware makes me a little odd even in the vegan world. I read this great article about the health benefits of soy foods, including tofu, written by The Vegan RD the other day, I haaaate it when people talk about how unhealthy soy products are because I know that that's some straight up bullshit but until now I'd never armed myself with enough facts to rebut people's stupidity. Now I have all of the facts so tofu haters can come at me with their frankly ridiculous questions about soy boobs and I can kill their stupidity with my words! Yeah!
Back to Hue and Nick and I managed to dine at Lien Hoa on only our second attempt. I'm not sure what the deal was the first time but we arrived a couple of hours before close and found the doors firmly shut and locked. Maybe they'd run out of food? This time we went at lunch time because who could run out of food by midday.
We were in luck and took full advantage ordering almost everything that took our fancy on the vast menu. Nick chose a fried mecan dish with rice which, thanks to a helpful Happy Cow reviewer, we knew was the translation for wheat gluten, or seitan, and I chose the aubergine with ginger and some summer rolls. I was also really excited to spot fermented tofu "cheese" on the menu so I ordered a small portion of that too.
My excitement was unfortunately tempered when the food arrived and it was packed full of chilli. I'm definitely finding Vietnam to be the place where upon telling someone "no chilli" my food comes covered in chilli. Every time I order I say "I can't eat chilli" and I accompany that with it written on paper because I'm aware that my Vietnamese pronunciation sucks but still, it just keeps on happening. My stomach is pissed and my joint pain is flaring up which is frustrating. Telling people I'm allergic is even worse as I just get blank looks, I'm guessing the concept of a chilli allergy isn't really a thing here because, well, it's not really a thing anywhere! As well as trying super hard to get my point across I'm also trying to order things that I think probably won't have chilli, hence the aubergine with ginger and the fresh spring rolls, but of course, as you can see, that isn't always working. Thankfully I'm travelling with the best dude ever who is happy to take one for the team and eat far more than his fare share of spicy food about 90% of the time (he's never gonna eat my too spicy aubergine!) whilst I chow down on the steamed rice we always try to remember to order just in case. Sometimes I just have to eat some food with chilli in to avoid being horribly rude, putting us in an awkward situation or ending up starving. I have on more than one occasion tried pointing at the dishes on the table and asking again whether there is chilli and I still get the same answer. There is no chilli! But there is! I can taste it! I can see it! Damn my stupid allergy for making travelling in Asia more challenging than it would be otherwise. I do feel lucky that it's an allergy that affects me slowly and builds up the more I eat of the foods that I have issues with rather than one where I can go into anaphylactic shock. That would be much worse so I'm counting myself lucky and looking on the bright side!
If you're thinking of dining at Lien Hoa I would highly recommend the fresh spring rolls if you're a friend of chilli as the wrappers were obviously super fresh and the peanut dip they came with was glorious. The fermented tofu cheese was a huge win and I kinda want to make it my go-to condiment for everything always. I found the smell totally off-putting but the texture was silky soft and flavour wise it was strong, bold and cheesy and I loved it. The steamed rice was also very nice!
This was our first ever hot pot experience anywhere in the world and boy was it a good 'un. Firstly this restaurant was massive and packed and every single group of people was devouring steaming, bubbling pans of hot pot. I knew this was a good sign as soon as we arrived. It also had the added bonus that we were able to watch what everyone else was doing with their hot pot so that we didn't make some kind of hideous faux pas.
I totally would have thrown the noodles into the pot because I'm an uncultured fool but no, you put the noodles into your dish and then ladle the hot soup over them so that they are perfectly cooked and not ruined like all of the pasta I made those first few years (ahem, 10 years) of cooking for myself. The broth was rich and tomatoey and waiting for it to boil before we could pop the lid off and add handfuls of greens was kinda torturous. I also felt like a food witch with my little bubbling cauldron of soup which I loved. As you can see in the top picture our hot pot came with a little side of fermented tofu which by this point was swiftly becoming my favourite food. I think this is up there with the best things I've eaten all year and I would be surprised if it doesn't make it onto my Top Ten List for 2015.