With the amount of signs plastered all over the joint, one has no doubt Quan Hong Hanh at 11A Nguyen Thi Minh Khai in District 1 specializes in the cuisine of Hue. This central Vietnam city pronounced “Hway” is known for fiery dishes I thoroughly enjoy. Perhaps a food pilgrimage to the actual city is in order one day to sample some of these flavor packed dishes in their natural habitat.
A grill out on the sidewalk sends smoke all over the neighborhood signalling the hungry some potentially amazing food awaits. That oily charred meat smell sure does tempt from a distance but when it wafts all over you inside an open front restaurant and clings to your sweaty t-shirt, well, that’s another story. Is second hand smoke from a grill even a health concept?
A plate of mì xào sounded so wonderful and visions of past meals in Hanoi swirled around my head. Dinner’s arrival snapped me quickly back to reality though as I stared at the plate. An unimaginative heap of brown ramen noodles formed the basis of this mì xào Huế hải sản or stir fry noodles and seafood Hue Style. Ramen noodles. Plain ole ramen noodles. The same cheap packaged ramen noodles I have spent my entire life avoiding as I honestly do not care for them. I had been thinking of phở xào actually and ordered this ramen mess by mistake.
The “seafood” in the name should indicate that a medley of the ocean’s bounty will greet each plunge of the chopsticks. An anemic portion of crab and one lone shrimp were disappointingly the only ocean going remains swimming around in this meal. Sour cabbage, mushrooms, onion and sliced scallions mixed into this noodle clump imparted a slight bit of flavor. Hue cuisine should indeed cause a tastebud blow out with copious amounts of heat, but the only fire in this dish was a gelatinous squirt of Chin-Su brand chili sauce coagulating off to the side. Chin-Su tastes much like ketchup mixed with buffalo chicken wing sauce. Something factory spawned is never a proper substitute for that natural spice only a proper mouth numbing, intestine scorching chili pepper can deliver.
Allow me to put this into a context more relatable. Imagine walking into some roadside barbecue stand deep in heart of Texas and ordering the brisket. A hunk of beef arrives but it is sliced Spam with an insipid mound of bottled barbecue sauce on the side. Disappointing? You betcha. Now you understand my reaction to this mì xào Huế hải sản.
Oh well, so we have one dud polluting the food pool. No big deal. This food journey is nowhere near done so off on the search for the next great meal we go.