Located several kilometers from downtown Hue City, Hen is a small islet in the middle of the Huong River, which has been created over time from alluvial soil.
As its name suggests, Hen is known as an islet of food, especially dishes from hen (mussel) such as mussel rice, rice porridge with mussel, or mussel with noodles and rice vermicelli. This is because many generations of people on this islet have been earning a living by catching mussel and processing dishes from this bivalve mollusk.
Although the present-day Hue has been added with a modern touch, the living environment on Hen islet is still as peaceful and rustic as any typical Hue village at the lower reaches of the Huong River.
Nguyen Van Vinh, a 73-year-old man whose three generations have been living on Hen islet, says the section of the Huong River running through the islet is clear, leaving a thick layer of mud at the bottom of the river and creating a good environment for mussels to grow. Mussels in this area have been famous for its high quality and in the past, mussel dishes from this islet were offered to kings, he says.
Among the restaurants on the islet, the one owned by Tao, a 75-year-old woman who has been cooking hen dishes for 60 years in Hue, is the most famous place for diners.
Tao’s restaurant serves mussels with rice and vermicelli. She says in order to process a bowl of mussels with rice and vermicelli, it needs at least 20 types of spices and ingredients.
Apart from basic spices such as fish sauce, oil, chili, and pepper, shrimp paste is an indispensable spice. Ingredients needed for these two dishes include rice, vermicelli, fresh vegetables, peanuts, star fruit, green mango, and obviously, mussels.
When cooked, a bowl of mussel rice or vermicelli looks mouthwatering thanks to its different colors and fragrant smells. The food just becomes more delicious thanks to the charming and poetic scene around, with boats flowing smoothly along the peaceful Huong River.