While the modern centres of Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh City drive the changing face of Vietnam, it is Hue that moves at its own speed; all the whilst retaining a strong sense of its historical identity. Around midnight, Hue is one of the few cities where you can hear the sound of distant storms in the mountains or the week-long rains that the city is renowned for. Many nights spent in Hue I would find myself falling asleep to the sound of the last few motorbikes journeying home, or roller doors closing as shop keepers called it a day. However one sound in particular, one common in suburban wards and cities throughout the country, echoes particularly well in Hue's empty late night streets: bánh bao đây! bánh bao nóng đây!
- At first novel for a foreigner's ears, those who have seen the source of this sound know that it belongs to a street vendor selling one of Vietnam's oldest snacks - the banh bao. Typically stacked inside a wood-fire heated barrel on the vendors' bicycle, banh bao are one of Vietnam's favorite fast foods.A white steamed dumpling filled with minced meat, egg and vegetables - banh bao are sold from convenience stores, street carts, motorbikes and bicycles in towns and cities throughout Vietnam. Those who sell banh bao on bicycle announce their presence to every alley and ward with a pre-recorded message that emanates from a small loudspeaker mounted on the handlebars. Upon hearing this sound late at night, I often found myself imagining the sellers roaming the streets below, riding in seemingly feeble search for hungry souls long since turned in. Despite the empty streets the vendors would ride on, intent on selling their load. I was lucky to get an insight into the life of a banh bao vendor after meeting Hoa, 42; a farmer by day who has been selling banh bao on Hue's streets for 12 years. Hoa cycles from his country home to Hue every afternoon to sell a barrel load of the Vietnamese dumplings and provide for his young family.