Coming to a Hue restaurant, diners will be startled with the name “Cơm âm phủ” (Hades’ rice) on the menu, but then will crave it with its eye-catching presentation and flavor.
The name sounds very strange due its underworld connotations making some diners afraid to touch it but it is a delicious unique culinary art of Hue city.
The dish is colorful with white rice, red fried shrimp and eggs, dark gold grilled pork, green cucumber and red and white pickled carrot and beet. It is served with fish sauce mixed with chili, garlic, lemon and sugar.
The rice was formerly a rustic dish for manual labor workers in Hue City. However, the rustic dish now has come into vogue in many Hue restaurants and it’s one diners should not miss.
It will be a mistake if we don’t mention about the origin of the intriguing dish name. Legend has it that one day, a king from the Nguyen Dynasty traveled incognito around the city and at that time asked residents to close their doors and to keep lights low and not look at the king.
But one evening after a long and tiring journey, the king stopped at a widow’s house in a remote village and asked for food. The poor woman didn’t recognize that the king was in her home so she just made rice served with cucumber and pickled cabbage.
Due to being famished and despite its simplicity and lack of spectacular ingredients, the king enjoyed the food and remembered it for a long time. Then after returning back to the palace, the king summoned her to make the same food.
The king remembered the gloomy space and because the house was built on lowland, it was dark outside, there was no electricity and the poor lady wasn’t lighting candles, the king’s dinner had an underworld feel to it (and the Greek god of the underworld is called Hades) so he called the dish ‘com am phu’.
In the more modern, unromantic version of the story, there once was a small dining hut, where only one dish was served ‘rice with thinly sliced meat and vegetable’. It was opened at night, mostly for poor workers, rickshaw pullers, and people on their way home from a late theatrical show. Again, because of the low light, the quiet and somewhat rustic and rugged ambience, the dining hut was known as am phu (Hades), and its only dish Hades’ rice.
On plastic plates with fragrant rice, customers can discover the unique flavor of each ingredient. Bacon julienne thin silk ball Hue, pureed shrimp, baked rolls Hue, fried eggs and shrimp, pickled beets and some aromatic vegetable all are presented in art and color harmony. This dish is not difficult but for processing, you need to choose fresh ingredients and manual dexterity to julienne the food and have a certain level of aesthetics to present the rice dish and create a unique impression from the first glimpse even for the most fastidious customers.
Hades’ rice with sweet and sour sauce and a wedge makes the taste so light and airy but the harmony between the sour and sweet blend also requires a certain skill.