A bowl of bun bo broth and rice in Hue. Photo: Thai Loc / Tuoi Tre
Strange servings Com va or ‘slurping rice’ is another traditional dish in Hue which has not yet made it on tourists' radar screen. This dish consists of large strings of vermicelli, julienned pork ham, banana flowers, herbs, and a spoonful of chicken broth. Long ago, the people of Hue enjoyed leftover rice in a variety of ways, including by munching on it with shrimp paste and fresh chili, or topping it with fat, shrimp sauce, and hot pepper flakes. Hue’s famous mam tom chua or sour fermented shrimp paste is made using cooked glutinous rice which adds a sweet taste and thickens the dish.
According to many mam tom chua enthusiasts, the dish must be prepared with leftover rice rather than glutinous rice in order to embody the true Hue spirit.
Worker’s food for royalty
It would not be right to talk about leftover rice without mentioning com hen or baby mussel rice.
Nguyen Thi Phuong Nga, the owner of an eatery at 17 Han Mac Tu, Hue City, says she cooks rice early in the morning and waits for it to cool down before making baby mussel rice. Photo: Thai Loc / Tuoi Tre
Hoang Tung De – a cousin of Vietnam’s last emperor Bao Dai – loved eating at street stalls outside of the citadel despite knowing it might ruin his royal status, according to cultural researcher Son.
When Bao Dai was asked about it, the emperor said he “would like to do the same thing but could not.”
There is no official record of whether com hen was served to royals, yet many former servants said the emperor often asked to have vendors cook the dish at the palace.
Leftover rice accounts for much of the food in com hen so it would have been carried along with the vendors in order to serve the royalty.
Later, when Emperor Bao Dai built his palace in Central Highlands city of Da Lat, to cook his favorite dish of com hen, servants released baby mussel breeds in several springs nearby.
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