Friday, January 14, 2011

The Ancient Imperial Capital of Hue




Hue is the ancient capital of imperial Vietnam where the Nguyen lords reigned over all of Vietnam from the 17th-19th century, until the last emperor abdicated in 1945, and Ho Chi Minh declared independance from France in Hanoi. Unfortunately, many of the Citadel's ancient palaces were destroyed during the Tet offensive of the 'American War' in 1968. Under the new Communist regime from 1975 to 1990, its buildings were considered to be politically incorrect as they represented the feudal reics of the former Nguyen dynasty, but fortunately in 1993 UNESCO recognised the Citadel's Monuments as a World Heritage Site.




Hue is small quiet city compared to bustling Hanoi and Saigon, and is a charming combination the the old and the new. The older fortified Citadel, home to the royal court of Vietnam, lies to the south; the modern centre of Hue is just across the Perfume river the north, where the hotels, restaurants and cafés are found. Along the riverside is the old Imperial complex, the Citadel and the Forbidden city; to the west are many of the old city's charming pagodas; and to the south of the city, lie the tranquil walled tombs of the emperors, temples, palaces, and lakes.




The emperors used to demand the very best delicacies, and thousands of special dishes were developed to satisfy their tastes. The result is a huge selection of light, delicate and immaculately crafted dishes, designed to allow the emperor to eat at leisure, each one unique, and deliciously individual yet not so heavy as to prevent him trying more dishes. Over the royal years, nervous chefs churned out ever-changing dishes for kings who demanded 52-course meals. Most were adaptations of the common dishes that were made outside the Citadel walls — the dishes of the common folk.




We had lunch at a fabulous restaurant called Ancient Hue, an open-air raised wooden pavilion that feels like we'd stepped back in time to the Nguyen dynasty, set amidst lotus ponds teeming with Koi, landscaped gardens and 20' high lanterns that are set ablaze at night. The food was outstanding and featured 6 courses complete with little swans and birds in flight, carved from Daikon radish, as a garnish for each of our dishes! 




Each town in Vietnam also features their own local beer, so not only did we have an exceptional lunch, we helped the local economy by enjoying a cold Hue Festival beer too.