‘Five times a night!’ Thanh exclaims. He picks up an unmarked bottle between sentences and pours its contents into a tiny goblet, urging me to do the next shot. ‘When you drink Minh Mang wine, it will make you stronger in bed.’ I roll my eyes as I pick up the glass, imagining myself doing endless press ups on my mattress later in the evening. It is not uncommon to hear people allude to more traditional forms of alcohol in Vietnam as aphrodisiacs. Minh Mang wine is no different, except for the legend that surrounds it.
The Legend of Minh Mang Wine
Rượu Minh Mang is famous throughout Hue for its mythic enhancements to its male consumers’ virility. It is no coincidence that the wine’s name sake includes second Nguyen emperor Minh Mang (1791-1841) who reigned from 1820 until his death in 1841. At a young age, Minh Mang was reportedly disinterested in sex – a cause for concern to a dynasty whose prosperity relied on the procreation of the emperor. The solution, concocted by royal doctors, was an elixir that would arouse the emperor’s sexual desires.
The tonic proved successful. Maybe too successful. Drinking the wine daily, the king not only kept atop of court affairs but also avoided exhaustion during more intimate occasions in the evening. While some Nguyen emperors struggled to rear an heir, Minh Mang went from sex shy to having over 140 children with his wife and concubines!
With his significant contributions in reforming the administrative divisions, renovating the country’s army and protecting the country with his staunch Confucianism and tough stance against foreign influence, he is possibly one of the country’s most successful emperors. Some people attribute his achievements and the unbelievable amount of children he fathered to his custom-made tonic.
Exclusive Elixir for Royal Mouths only!
But Minh Mang wine wasn’t for any ordinary folk. Similar to a lot of royal dishes, the medicinal liquor was only for the king. Designed by royal physicians, no one was allowed to recreate it, not even the most loyal of mandarins. Maybe out of fear of how powerful the wine would be in the wrong hands! However, due to the alleged effects of Minh Mang wine, some officials collaborated to replicate the recipe in secret. These mandarin-inspired imitations are assumed to be available to buy today.
What are the ingredients of Minh Mang Wine?
Allegedly, royal doctors selected around twenty-six different Chinese herbs including polyporaceae, radix paeoniae albae, wolfberry, angelica, ladybells, cinnamon, sa ginseng, radix rehmanniae, ledebouriella divaricata and radix astragal. They soaked these ingredients in liquor and served it to the king every day. Modern day variants include some of these ingredients and other substitutes.
Is Minh Mang Wine Available to Buy?
Whether Minh Mang wine existed remains uncertain. However, some modern-day herbalists advocate that Minh Mang wine can nourish the mental and physical health of the consumer.
At least 25 variants claiming to be Minh Mang wine are readily sold around Hue. Practitioners of traditional medicine still prescribe Minh Mang for treating ailments, improving blood circulation, enhancing vitality and virility, nourishing the nervous system, preventing diseases and aches, treating impotence and providing deep sleep without nightmares.
With the remarkable achievements of the emperor, many people still believe it to be a traditional aphrodisiac, like Viagra. Two recipes used have the names “nhất dạ lục giao sinh ngũ tử” (to have sex six times a night and father five sons) and “nhất dạ ngũ giao sinh tứ tử” (to have sex five times and father four sons). Despite the titled promises, I wouldn’t suggest investing for their proclaimed effects.
The wine is not only available in pharmacies but also sold in restaurants and bars. These are often mass produced and vary in price depending on brand and quality. Some stores even sell a home brewing kit!
A Night Out in Hue on Minh Mang Wine
Minh Mang wine’s alcoholic potency, its ties to cultural heritage and reputation as an aphrodisiac may seem to make it the ultimate beverage for a night out in Hue, but doctors and physicians strongly advise against consuming enormous quantities for fun. Herbalist Le Quy Nguu, Vice Chairman of Thua Thien-Hue Traditional Medicine Association claims that drinking it excessively might kill the consumer!
Can Your Peasant Mouth Get a Taste of Emperor Sex Wine?
*this tour is currently unavailable-but enjoy the writing and feel free to email me for recommendations*
Along with a multitude of Hue-centric dishes and drinks that we introduce as part of our carefully crafted socio-historic food tour, we offer the tale of Minh Mang wine along with a taste of one of our favourite variants. We try it early on the tour to avoid you from staying up all night, building a citadel and ‘fighting the influence’ of other nationalities at your hotel.
The Hue Food tour is the ONLY food tour in Hue that avoids the over-generalisations and the cookie-cutter format that so often occupies food tours facilitated by bigger travel groups. Choose Hue. Choose Grit. And don’t drink too much Minh Mang wine! Sign up to our newsletter below to keep in touch with what we’re doing.
Co-written by Quynh Anh Nguyen and Luke Digweed
Research by Quynh Anh Nguyen
Photos by Luke Digweed