One of my most memorable meals in Vietnam (and there were many!) was in the countryside outside of the former colonial capital, Hue. The city of Hue is well known to Americans of my generation due to the Tet Offensive that took place within the royal palace walls during the Vietnam War. The magnificent home in which I dined was the former villa of the Governor of the region. Taken over by the North Vietnamese government after the war, this beautiful estate had only recently been returned to the descendants of the Governor.
Our bus driver had a difficult time finding the property. The interpreter I had hired assured me, however, that we had arrived at the correct location. I was hesitant as we were dropped off in an alley of a small, rural settlement. “It’s just 50 meters down the small path---follow me,” the translator beckoned. Sure enough about 50 yards down the cobblestone passageway I spotted a young elegantly coiffed woman in a long purple silk gown awaiting us. “Welcome” she said in perfect English with a Vietnamese accent.
An enchanting oasis awaited us beyond the entrance
We followed her through an ancient doorway that was surrounded by a 15 foot stone wall. In my wildest dreams I could not have imagined such a place of beauty in this rural setting. Formal gardens abounded with fountains, statues, and flowers in every color of the rainbow.
The gardens would have made the perfect Zen retreat.
At the end of the garden the owner stood summoning us warmly into his home. It was all like a magical fairy-tale.
The great-grandson of the former Governor of Vietnam
The proprietor, a successful architect, proceeded to show us a few of his family’s most cherished pieces---his great-grandfather’s elaborately carved ivory opium pipe caught my eye.
The exquisite opium pipe...a priceless family heirloom
Then, he escorted us into the antique-filled dining room where our private lunch was to be served. After we were seated he presented each of us with a fan on papyarus that he had personally created. On each fan he had hand-written in calligraphy the 10 course menu.
My most beloved souvenir from the trip
This heavenly salad mélange was one of the first courses...
Exotic ingredients such as shredded banana leaf flowers
Next came a complex, satin-textured pumpkin soup...
The gourd was cleverly used as a tureen
The entire afternoon was unforgettable on so many levels…an extraordinary setting, a slice of history from the largest military operation conducted up to 1968 by either side in the war, a scrumptious meal of remarkably prepared food, and a fan which is now sitting on my desk to commemorate this once in a lifetime moment.
To the American men & women who lost their lives in this distant part of the world, I send my resounding thanks for fighting a war in which they received little gratitude at the time.