Time for some room temperature rice with tiny shellfish.
It was day 2 of our two day trip to Hue.
Unfortunately we wouldn't get to actually consume all of the food we saw over the three days but we were going to have a good try at it.
Some dishes just had to be on the 'must consume' list though, and Com Hen was one of those items.
Do a Google search for Com Hen and one could be forgiven for thinking that this was some type of divine offering – a culinary Excalibur that was thrust out of the Perfumed River on a rare bowl that only the truly worthy could grapple from the wrist of the gargoyle guarding it.
Apparently this classic creation is a careful balance of flavours and textures, of warm and cold temperatures swirling together like DNA threads cavorting magically to create an ethereal infusion of taste and timeless elegance.
Local authorities would pour our their hearts about the deliciousness of com hen, and of the good people of Hue and their dedication to making sure that not a grain of rice was wasted. And how amusing, touching and heartwarming those tales are.
My story is a tad less romantic and covers the nuts and bolts of eating lukewarm rice and seafood at a riverbank eatery.
Two wee nuggets of truth that fall from between the poorly bundled prose when Googling Com Hen would be:
- There IS a certain level of admiration earned simply from the work of preparing this dish. You cannot help but appreciate the huge effort involved in cleaning the shellfish and parting the microscopic meat from their shells
- This dish (as well as being wholly virtuous, historical and perfect in all ways) is cheap and inexpensive. This is a huge part of its appeal.
So, without further ado, THIS is the dish.
Colourful, tasty, fast and fresh, Com Hen is a rice dish served at room temperature with tiny (almost microscopic!) local shellfish and a few other things thrown in as texture.
Chilli, garlic, fish sauce, shrimp paste, pork skin, herbs, peanut flavoured our version with a little banana flower, lotus stalk and cherry tomato.
There is a wee street along the river in Hue city where you'll find a string of local com hen shacks. There's plenty of other places too, but these are apparently the Holy Grail of com hen joints. Plus, you can see the water.
Budget around $1 for a bowl of this stuff. If you're not an aficionado of the rich purple fermented shrimp paste, let them know ahead. If language is a problem, just point at it, red-faced and hysterical, shaking your head violently, waving your hand in a gesture of rejection whilst shouting "COM, COM COM!"
Likewise, chilli is pretty optional – just be aware that Hue people like their spicy food so if you need it mild, watch carefully.
After you get your colourful bowl of rice and toppings, mix it together so you get a combination of flavours and feelings with each mouthful.
It is quite intricately seasoned, so settle back and enjoy it with a beer.
In short, a nice, tasty snack.
It will definitely get character from the location and the specific seasoning, so for a first time, go somewhere famous for making it and enjoy it with a view of the river