Brown W. Cannon III
June 16, 2010

The Assignment: Shot Hanoi, Saigon, and Hue in 12 days (“Ultimate Food Guide to Vietnam”)

Trip Time: It took 30 hours—including a transpacific leg and layovers in Seoul and Singapore—to get to Hanoi, but I was invigorated upon arrival. Just stepping out to explore the city was energizing.

Hoang Vien Restaurant, Hue

The Scene: A hostess presenting afternoon tea service.

Why It Was Art: There were so many elegant details: her beautiful traditional dress; how delicately she set the teacups down; the way she held the pot.

How I Got That Shot: The room was dark, so I set up lighting about 15 feet from the action, far enough to illuminate both her and the geometric wall, but concentrated enough not to oversaturate.

The Key Here Was... Mystery. It’s good to leave the viewer wondering a bit, wanting to peek around those columns and see what they’re hiding.

Hoang Vien

Have a three-hour dinner at Hoang Vien (“royal garden”), opened in March 2010 by the painter and chef Boi Tran in a restored French-colonial house. In an open-walled dining pavilion, long teak tables are set with vases of yellow roses: an ideal setting for a modern take on Hue cuisine, presented with appropriate flourish, like Vietnamese kaiseki. “Shrimp with five tastes” is reminiscent of Thai tom yum koong, with a single, plump pink prawn swimming in a consommé spiced with Kaffir lime leaf, lemongrass, chili, shallot, and ginger. Hoang Vien’s nem ran (pork, shrimp, and mushroom spring rolls) are shrouded in wispy golden threads of fried rice paper and accompanied by a salad of rose petals. Across five more courses, all presented on exquisite china from Bat Trang, the famed pottery village outside Hanoi, Boi Tran and her chefs take the precious formality of Hue cuisine to a new place, where the pleasure of pure flavor, not mere visual dazzle, is primary.

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