Sometimes life gives you a difficult decision. And sometimes there is no “right” choice. Case in point: On what felt like basically the hottest day ever in Hue, Vietnam, we were given the choice of eating in a somewhat touristy restaurant with air conditioning or an “off the beaten path” restaurant without. We chose the former and found ourselves at Y Thao Garden Restaurant. And of course, within minutes of setting food, having not eaten a bite, we all felt like we had made the right decision.
So, I decided to order a set meal. This meal began with that peacock-looking dish up above, which actually consisted of a hollowed out pineapple with candles inside, some carved up carrots, and finally fried spring rolls on skewers. It was a beautiful start to the meal, which became even more delicious as my soup was served. Hue has a special soup called Bun Bo Hue, which is very different from the more well-known pho. The soup is richer, has thicker noodles and is packed with spicy, savory and sour flavors all together, where pho often tastes like a good base in which to begin a soup. Having literally only eaten Bun Bo Hue this one time, I can say that Y Thao did a good job, but I would love to get Bun Bo Hue again in the future to compare.
Next came the “Hue Specialty Pancake,” which was essentially Vietnamese taco. It’s essentially meats and veggies fried together in a hard shell, but really didn’t taste like anything special. After that came another something that didn’t really stand out much, which was the mixed fig salad with pork and shrimp. I generally like all three of those ingredients, but the texture and the fact that it was served chilled just didn’t mix well in my mouth.
Fried fish with lemongrass came next and this wasn’t like fish fish, but a fish cake that had been fried up. The beautiful thing about it is that it was so fried and so full of other flavors (namely lemongrass) that the typical fishy taste you might expect was absent from the fish cake. Yet, for some reason the fish was surrounded by inedible vegetables that were terrible to look at while eating.
The grand finale was fried rice. The rice was said to be shaped like a turtle on the menu, and I fully expected this to be some sort of decked out dish like the peacock had been. Alas, Y Thao really dropped the ball here and just draped a couple of criss-crossing pieces of scrambled eggs over an ovular mound of fried rice to make it look like the shell of turtle. Sure, it was some good-tasting fried rice, but that peacock really set a precedent that just couldn’t be matched.
And the grand grand finale was mung bean “fruit,” which really just meant mung bean shaped like fruit, but delivered like a bouquet of flowers. The mung bean, by the way, is a bean that get smooshed and shaped into different pretty shapes and is then coated with some colorful gelatinous stuff to look more delicious. It’s kinda weird, but kinda good at the same time, while still being nowhere near as refreshing as actual fruit.
So, with the meal at Y Thao Garden Restaurant behind me, I could safely say that it was not only worth it to be in air conditioning, but also to have had a delicious meal. Sure, there was some obvious touristy flair in there, but the food was still plenty unique and unlike anything I could imagine back at home. That’s always a win in my book.