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Plain mussel recipes in Hue cuisine

Thu, 12 Mar 2015 . Last updated Thu, 25 Jun 2015 09:01

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Hue cuisine is famous for both royal dishes and plain dishes. Mussel rice, rice vermicelli with mussels and stir-fried mussels served with rice cracker are among the plainest dishes of the ancient capital.

The Hen Islet is a village in Huong Luu, Vi Da, several kilometers away from the center of Hue city. It is called “islet” because it is an alluvial flat in the middle of the Huong River. It is “Ta Thanh Long”, the object that stands to the left side of the Hue imperial citadel. But it is commonly called “Hen islet”. The section of the Huong River flowing through this place has clear water with few sediments and alkaline substances. Tourists to the Hen islet can feel clearly the tranquility of the local village. Moreover, they cannot resist the appeal of famous specialties here, such as the corn sweetened porridge, mussel rice, rice vermicelli with mussels, stir-fried mussels. How plain the dishes are! Yet they bear distinctive flavor that holds a strong appeal to a lot of diners.

The mussel rice is not simply a daily dish. It takes skillfulness to make the dish which consists of many plain ingredients. Mussels are cold. That’s why they are spiced with chili, garlic and ginger which have pungency. The mussel rice has left a lasting impression on diners who try the dish for the first time. Through some locals, I reach a famous mussel meat preparing area. Local woman are preparing elephant ear stems, which are known as “mon bac ha” or “doc mung” in Vietnamese. This is the ingredient that brings the attractive taste to the mussel rice and rice vermicelli with mussels of the Hen islet.

It’s not easy to slice elephant ear stems as thinly as possible. It requires skillfulness and experience. I’m surprised to know that prepared herbs will be brought to the stalls selling dishes from mussels not only in Hue, but also in Da Nang and Saigon. The locals have to get up at 2am to prepare mussel meat. The fire is ready. The village buzzes with daily activities. After being soaked in rice water, mussels are cooked for the first time. Then cold water is added to the cooked mussels to separate their meat from the shells. Mussel meat will be cooked for the second time to done to a turn.

It takes 14-15kg of raw mussels to get a kilogram of mussel meat. There are many kinds of mussels in the Huong River. However, mussels by the Hen Islet stand out. They are small in size, but have pleasant scent and tasty tough flesh. The mussel meat is brought by women who sell dishes from mussels. They come here very early to buy necessary ingredients. Carrying loads of goods on their shoulders, these women contribute to preserving the plain beauty of Hue.

These loads of Hue specialties will be taken downstream the Huong River to many different parts of Hue and offer delicious breakfast to many people. No one knows when the mussel rice has become an indispensable part of Hue cuisine and taken up a special position in the heart of Hue natives living away from home.

Clean the mussel meat once again before stir-fry it with cooking oil and fried onions and garlic. Add a little salt, Monosodium glutamate and powdered chili. Hue loves spicy dishes. The piquancy of chili can remove the fishy smell of mussels. Stir the mixture well till the mussel meat becomes dry and smells tasty. Chili sauce, powdered roasted peanuts and shrimp paste liquid are the spices that make the mussel rice in Hue stand out. Mixed fried onion and garlic with chili sauce and powdered roasted peanuts. All spiced combine together to bring the plain deliciousness to the dish.

Mussels are used as a remedy for improvement of the viscera, especially the liver. That’s why the mussels cooking liquid is good to cool us down. All impurities are removed from the liquid before use. Spiced and boiled, the liquid can be used as a kind of soup or poured onto the mussel rice. It’s advisable to take the liquid when it is still hot. As the mussels cooking liquid produces coldness, a little ginger providing warmth is needed to balance the liquid.  

Surprisingly, the mussel rice of consists of over a dozen ingredients. Different ingredient are mixed together and become harmonious in the dish. Trying the dish, we can recognize the saltiness of the shrimp paste liquid, the toughness and sweetness of the mussel meat, the coolness and fragrance of elephant ear stems, the butteriness of roasted peanuts, the greasiness of pork scratching, the sourness of unripe mango and the pungency of chili. All of them go well together, creating an indescribable taste.

 It’s easy to make the stir-fried mussels served with rice cracker. We just need to stir-fry the mussel meat with onions, woodear mushrooms and other spices like fish sauce, Monosodium glutamate and powdered chili till he meat gets dry and smells good. Persicaria adorata is indispensable herb of the dish. A lot of persicaria adorata is needed to balance the coldness of mussels and make the dish more eye-catching and tastier. Tasty stir-fried mussel meat served with crispy rice cracker will definitely leave a fine impression on diners. For simple ingredients, skillful cooks make a specialty that is plain but bears striking features of cuisine in Hue.


Source: VTC10 - NETVIET

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