Sunday, February 03, 2008

Show a little love for Hue - Restaurant: Huong Giang

Buford highway is peppered with dozens of Vietnamese restaurants. Walking into any of them, one is practically guaranteed to score a bowl of pho, the noodle soup that has come to represent the nation. Huong Giang used to be one exception, where dishes tend to stay true to the flavors of Hue, the former imperial capital of Vietnam. Instead of pho, there was bun bo hue, a thicker and rounder rice noodle served in a red broth bursting with notes of lemongrass and red chilies. Unlike with pho, where one gets to pick the additions like beef, seafood, etc., Huong Giang's bun bo hue came standard with slices of beef, poached cubes of pork blood, and sliced pig trotter for protein, and amaranth leaves and thinly sliced banana blossom for fiber. In a sea of restaurants offering a largely standard Vietnamese menu, I admired HG for doing something different, and doing it pretty darn well.

Imagine my surprise and disappointment a few days ago, when I returned to HG to find a banner outside and a special menu on each table claiming that pho is now being served. It seems that the restaurant had finally gotten tired of customers asking "where is the pho"? Luckily, the old menu is still intact for those who want to try something different. The bun bo hue was still as excellent as ever. Assertively flavored with lemongrass and chilies, the broth nevertheless managed to extrude a long cooked beefy essence. The generous helpings of pork trotter slices and congealed pork blood added contrast in texture and offered a chance to boast both collagen and iron level for skin beautification, as my Chinese doctor mother used to say.

Another specialty that should not be missed is Banh La Cha Tom, a flat rice flour cake steamed in a banana leaf. They came in a pack of ten. The unwrapped cake was as pretty to look at, studded with bits of ground shrimp and pork, as it was good to eat dipped in a sweet and slightly tangy sauce. The whole eating process was addictive if one is fond of the gelatinous texture.

All in all, while Huong Giang had caved under the pressure to join the pho camp, its hue specialties remain the draw for food lovers.

Huong Giang
4300 Buford Hwy.

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