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The Thy Tracker (continued)


May 15–23  Peranakan  24–25  27–29  Sireh  30a  30b  30c–31
Malaysia: Melaka June 1–2, Kuala Lumpur 3–4, Penang 6
Vietnam: Saigon 13–16  19-20  22  26  27 30
Nha Trang July 7a 7b, Hue 14a 14b, Hanoi 19–20
India: Pondicherry 31, Bangalore August 2–4, Kerala

HUE, VIETNAM (continued)

July 14, Saturday

In Hue, twenty paces from my hotel, I found a line of street vendors selling on the sidewalk. They arrived before dawn and were gone by 9 o’clock. With nothing more than a few baskets of ingredients, a tiny charcoal stove, and a pot of stock, each woman served a traditional breakfast soup or rice dish right from the pavement. Schoolgirls stopped by on their way to class, office women tucked their dresses in neatly before sitting down, and business men talked on their phones between bites. Perched on tiny, red, plastic chairs, the morning regulars balanced breakfast on their knees as they ate quietly and quickly.

 The breakfast rush on a sidewalk in Hue. Each woman sells a different specialty, from bun bo Hue (spicy beef soup) at the far end to bun hen at the near end.

I ate two classic dishes of Hue at this sidewalk gathering. One morning was dedicated to bun bo Hue, a famous soup enjoyed throughout Vietnam. When I was younger, my mother often made this spicy, filling soup for my school morning breakfasts. But the real thing, I’d been repeatedly assured, is served only here in Hue. The soup combines thin slices of beef and gelatinous knobs of pork over fresh, round rice noodles. Its broth gains sweetness and body from pigs’ feet and a deep red color from ground chiles. Fresh mint, shreds of fresh banana flower, and tender lettuce leaves help make this one of my favorite soups.

A bowl of bun hen balanced on my knees. In the background, you can see the vendor’s pot of broth, kept warm with a small wood fire built right on the sidewalk.

The impromptu food court was also where I first tasted bun hen. Hen is the name for a sweet, tender river cockle harvested nearby from the Perfume River. The meat of the cockles is sprinkled over fresh rice noodles along with roasted peanuts, lightly pickled taro stem, croutons of fried pork skin, snipped chives, and just a single ladle of rich broth. It’s a very simple dish, but the flavors and textures meld perfectly. For one bowl of bun hen. I paid about 2000 dong, or about 15 cents.

Next: Hanoi, Vietnam >

July 2001