I recently took a mini-trip up to Huế, Đà Nẵng, and Hội An; a bit more than halfway up between Hồ Chí Minh and Hà Nội. Here's the first part of a multi-dish series and on the food of central Việt Nam, known locally as Miền Trung.
Central Cuisine is known for it's spiciness and abundance of light, bite sized dishes. The soup Bún bò Huế is crazy popular all over Việt Nam but there's much more to tango with in this laid back, sun soaked region.
Due to so many folks migrating down south to the economic capitol for work, Hồ Chí Minh has many of the regional specialties of all parts of Việt Nam if you search hard enough. Most of them are excellent renditions, although some dishes are best sampled in their place of origin. Hailing from Huế City, I'm speaking of Cơm hến of course; rice with river mussels.
As is the standard for most Vietnamese (in particular Miền Trung) dishes, layer upon layer of flavors and textures combine to create the finished product. Clockwise from the bottom we have fish sauce with chilis and garlic, crushed peanuts, M.S.G., baby mussels, fried pork skin chips, sliced green onion, larger clams used for another dish and chili sauce. The purple mystery in the center is mắm tôm, fermented shrimp paste with a scent that'll make you run home to mắma, but used in moderation.
Together in the bowl with fresh peanuts, herbs and shredded banana flower. The mussels are harvested from the Hương river, which runs through Huế. You're also given a bowl of mussel broth to spoon over the rice bowl.
I straight up love this dish. The bowl you're given is quite small, and there's not too much rice either so it's more like a snack. Vietnamese usually keep it light for breakfast and I wasn't complaining about portion size when my bill came. 5.000 VND a bowl [0.28 ¢].
Stay central for part 2.