Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

Royal dinner, Hue, Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 11, 2007

Wednesday was mostly a travel day, spent flying to Hue. There was a short bus trip to our hotel, the Saigon Morin, a vast three-storey white painted place with wide staircases and a marble entry hall, rather Raffles-ish in style. We were met with a refreshing drink and an army of porters who then escorted us to our rooms. Two comfy beds adorned with rose petals, fresh fruit on a platter, and even a secretaire with what looked like ancient pieces of pottery. The aircon was very good, which was just as well because Hue was very hot and muggy compared to the north…
After freshening up, we went out to learn about the court rituals of Hue at a ‘Royal Dinner’. We were dressed up like courtiers in traditional robes and treated to ancient court music as played to the emperors of the Nguyen Dynasty. (The last emperor abdicated in 1945 to Ho Chi Minh because he collaborated with the French, but if he was fed like we were, I can quite understand why he was a bit reluctant to give up his privileges.)

Our first course was created in the shape of a phoenix: the head formed from little crispy noodle ‘spring rolls’ on toothpicks, placed in a choko forming the body of the bird, with the wings carved from carrots and cucumbers. There was also a peacock, with delicate pastry wings made from miniscule pieces of spring onion and carrot – almost too pretty to eat. This was followed by a prawn soup, and then sticky rice with prawn shavings, followed by our first experience at rolling up our own won-ton pancakes. First you take a piece of won-ton wrapper, place two kinds of banana and a star fruit on it, then a bit of chicken wrapped around a stalk of lemon grass, and then roll it up. (This is the hard part, because it tends to fall apart in the hands of a novice). Remove the lemon grass and dunk it in satay sauce. There was also chicken, and beef, both with their own dipping sauces, vegetables, herbs and rice, and dessert was colourful gelatine fruit shapes and a pomelo – a huge citrus fruit which tastes like a cross between a lemon and an orange. It was all very splendid, so perhaps there were some compensations in the life of a concubine!

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