Tet (Lunar New Year) is fast approaching, and people in Boe Dau village in the northern province of Thai Nguyen’s Co Lung commune are busy preparing banh chung (square glutinous rice cakes).
Making chung cake
The village has specialised in making the cake for nearly 60 years.
The village's banh chung are reportedly among the best in the north, and aresold widely throughout the country and exported to Vietnamese communitiesoverseas.
Nguyen Bich Lien, head of a management board that oversees the craft, said some50 households were making a living from banh chung.
Each family produces 100-150 cakes per day, but the amount sharply increasesfor Tet.
Their products are mostly traditional square (northern style) or cylinder(southern style) sticky rice cakes.
“Our cakes are not only famous in this area,” Lien said. “Many Vietnameseacross the country as well as Vietnamese abroad order our cakes."
Lien said that every August, the village opens a training class on food hygienefor locals, where lecturers from the province’s Department of Industry andTrade teach people about the importance of clean food. After three days oftraining, trainees have to sit a test.
“Only people who pass the test get a certificate and are allowed to continuemaking banh chung,” Lien said.
According to Ngo Tien Sy, who owns the Sy Oanh Banh chung Shop, the cakes wereall handmade, and locals did not use frames to wrap the cakes like in otherareas.
“That’s why the quality and appearance of the cakes depends on skills of thecooks,” he said.
“If the cakes are wrapped tightly in leaves, they maintain their shape whilebeing cooked,” he said. “The cakes look good while the sticky rice inside issoft, sticky and sweet.”
It takes 8-10 hours to boil the cakes, and during that time, the cooks have tocontinue adding water to ensure they don't go dry.
Sy said ingredients were bought from trustworthy suppliers who ensured theingredients’ quality and origins.
The sticky rice comes from Bac Kan province or Hung Yen province.
Pork is marinated with pepper before it is stuffed inside layers of sticky riceand green beans. Locals use green dong (Phrynium) leaves from a nearby forestto wrap the cakes.
The water used is taken from a spring behind the village, which is believed tobe holy.
Holy water is believed to provide a special taste for the delicacy.
“When they're boiled with water from the mountain, the cakes have a uniqueflavour,” Lien said.
Locals say Nguyen Thi Xuan, also known as Dang following her husband’s name,was the first person to make the cakes here. She opened her first shop in 1960,which quickly allured a lot of local customers.
She handed down the craft down to her children and grandchildren in her olderyears, and gradually, the trade has become the main source of income for thevillage.
People in Co Lung commune used to grow rice and tea, living mud huts.
Now the cakes have improved their lives./.VNA