A village nested among the paddy fields of Thua Thien – Hue Province in central Vietnam has spent centuries cementing its reputation for serving the country’s best boiled pork, a dish villagers have perfected to the point that it’s included in offerings to Heaven in ancient Vietnamese rituals.
Phu Le Village in Quang Dien District, Thua Thien – Hue, located 115 kilometers northwest of Da Nang, sits on a trapezoidal piece of land bordering the Bo River to the southwest.
Villagers take great pride in their ability to cook the best boiled pork one can find in Vietnam – so good that even Vietnamese emperors couldn’t resist.
The best pork there is
Visiting the An Lo Market in Phong Dien District, Thua Thien – Hue, one can easily find food stalls offering dishes eaten with boiled pork run by Phu Le villagers. After all, they’re always the busiest corners of the market.
One such stall, run by Phu Le-born Tran Thi Tram, is consistently packed with eaters seated on a wooden bench and some plastic stools placed around a large wooden table, where steaming chunks of freshly boiled pork are sliced and presented on the spot by order.
Elbowing other eaters to seat themselves on the tiny bench, two Tuoi Tre correspondents ordered a helping of the place’s famous ‘banh uot thit heo’, a simple dish consisting of boiled pork belly placed on top of rolled rice noodle sheets, eaten with fresh herbs and a fish sauce-based spicy dipping sauce.
The pork is unquestionably the highlight of the dish, as the meat is soft, fragrant and leaves a mildly sweet aftertaste but still retains just enough crunchiness to give eaters an interesting chew.
Paired with herbs and sweetened fish sauce mixed with chopped garlic and chili peppers, a mouthful of the dish can take one to heaven and back.
“In no other place in Vietnam do people know how to make boiled pork as delicious as people from Phu Le do, that I can say for certain,” Tram said. “It’s our village’s special trade.”
The reputation of Phu Le pork has spread beyond the borders of the small village, as people from the neighboring city of Hue are willing to travel 40 kilometers to and from Phu Le every morning to have boiled pork for breakfast at one of the many roadside eateries that have sprung up along the Bo River.
A taste of heaven
According to cultural researcher Tran Dai Vinh, Phu Le Village has been known for centuries as the place that cooks the best boiled pork in Vietnam, a fact written in many history books and ancient writings.
“During the rule of the Nguyen dynasty in Vietnam, men from Phu Le were recruited to be cooks in the royal palace in charge of slaughtering and cooking pork,” Vinh said.
Today, their cooking technique is still well-preserved and has even been adopted by residents living in neighboring villages.
Apart from preparing meals for kings and royal families, Phu Le cooks were also entrusted with raising and slaughtering pigs used in ancient rituals as offerings to Heaven.
Tran Cong Thuong, a man in his 70s who belongs to a family in Phu Le known for their pig slaughtering skills, said generations of his family members had had the honor of preparing pigs for the Sacrifice of the Nam Giao, the most important of Nguyen-dynasty ceremonies.
|A communal temple in Phu Le Village, Quang Dien Distritct, Thua Thien – Hue Province in central Vietnam. Photo: Thai Loc / Tuoi Tre|
During the annual sacrifice, which took place at the Nam Giao Esplanade in Hue, an emperor would make offerings to Heaven as a symbol that he is the true ‘child of Heaven’ destined to lead his people.
Pigs used for the sacrifice must be male, healthy, and have silk-black skin, and be slaughtered with a single stab to the throat using a special knife forged specifically for the occasion, Thuong said.
The great precision and attention to detail required for preparing the perfect pork offerings are qualities that can only be found in a Phu Le villager.
The region’s supplier of pork
Today, Phu Le Village remains the main supplier of pork for the entire surrounding area, including wet markets in Thua Thien – Hue’s Phong Dien and Quang Dien Districts.
Since a government policy required all slaughterhouses in Phu Le situate themselves in one area for better food safety control over a decade ago, the place has been turned into a bustling hub in the early hours of the morning.
Merchants from Phu Le and neighboring villages come here between 3:00 am and 6:00 am every day to buy freshly slaughtered meat before departing to sell it in other corners of the country.
“This profession was passed on to me by my ancestors, so it’s my job to keep it alive and spreading so that I can feed myself and my children,” said Tran Cong Tram, a pig slaughterer from Phu Le.
“Every job contributes to society in a different way, and they are all equally honorable if they’re done with honor,” he said.