Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Vietnam's Tet traditional food - Legendary Chung Cake from Thanh Khuc Village

Thanh Khuc (or Tranh Khuc) Village at Duyen Ha Commune, Thanh Tri District, Hanoi is famous for making their traditional Chung cake. This is a place where the spirit of Tet comes alive the earliest in Hanoi.

Tranh Khuc Village is particularly busy at the end of the year. Although Tet is approaching next month, the entire village is preparing to make Chung cake. You cannot find such a traditional feature of Tet anywhere other than here.

La dong is bought from Thanh Hoa, Nghe An and Northern mountainous provinces

Chung cake is a traditional Vietnamese cake which is made from glutinous rice, mung bean, pork and other ingredients. Its origin is told by the legend of Lang Lieu, a prince of the sixth Hung King, who became Hung King 's successor thank to his creation of Chung cake and Giay cake, which symbolised respectively the Earth and the Sky. Considered an essential element of the family altar on the occasion of Tet. The making and eating Chung cake during this time is a well-preserved tradition of Vietnamese people, and the specialty of Tranh Khuc Village.

“Daily, we wash la dong (a special kind of leave which is popular only in southern Asia), rice, beans and then wrap chung cake. We cook it for a night and the next day we will sell it. We keep working day and night,” said Nguyen Thi Thuy, a villager.

Preparation for chung cake wrapping

Each family here has 10-25 workers with 5-10 big pots to cook chung cake. Their business used to be retail sales but now it has grown to wholesale.

Making Chung cake is a traditional business in this farming village and has remained very successful. It helps them to improve their livelihood.

Ngan’s family is among those becoming wealthier thanks to making chung cake. “My family’s economic situation has been much improved thanks the Chung cake business. We just inherited a legacy left by our ancestor and continued to develop it,” said Ngan.

A professional Chung cake wrapper can make hundreds of cake per day

However, the title of “Chung cake Master” belongs to Nguyen Minh Tan, who is over 50 years old but has spent 30 years making chung cake. He has about 20 employees working for him. His entire house is full of la dong, strings, and sticky rice.

He has sold thousands of Chung cakes. The first time he exported Chung cakes was back in 1994. He exported 4,000 cakes to Germany in addition to Australia and Russia.

“It looks simple because every family makes Chung cake on Tet holiday but when it becomes a business, it needs a lot of effort, experience and preparedness. We want to maintain our prestige and reputation for our off-spring,” said Nguyen Quoc Trieu, a villager.

In order to make a good Chung cake, we need to buy and select high quality ingredients. For example, la dong should be bought from Thanh Hoa, Nghe An or Yen Bai, Lao Cai and Ha Giang provinces because they are soft, hard to be broken and have a nice green colour after cooking.

La dong and giang strings have to be washed carefully in order to preserve the taste of the cake. Giang strings may be soaked in salt water or steamed so that they can become flexible enough for wrapping. Fat and lean pork is prefered for Chung cake because its fatty flavour associates mixes well with the glutinous rice and bean, developing a special taste, according to Trieu.

“We make Chung cake for the whole year. We can earn VND10,000-15,000 ($0.5-0.8) per cake. But during Tet, we can earn much more money,” added Trieu.

The people here prepare for Tet beginning in early December and keep busy for the entire month. They welcome the New Year after the last cake has sold.

Tranh Khuc Village has 90 percent of its population making Chung Cake. They have been famous for 40-50 years. They don’t even need mould to wrap Chung Cake in the right manner. Many masters can make hundreds of cakes of the same size.

Source: Quang Thanh

Recommendation in Vietnam:
- Cultures and Customs in Vietnam
- Adventure tours in Vietnam
- Short Excursions in Vietnam

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Spectacular Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Halong bay, so picture the scene. Strange karst mountains covered with greenery shoot up out of the water all around you.

Halong bay, Vietnam

You're floating on an 80-foot junk in the middle of a spectacular bay. The air is warm and moist and perfectly pleasant, a nearly full moon shining brightly overhead.

And there you are, surrounded by fifteen drunk Europeans, Vietnamese vodka and singing karaoke at the top of their lungs to such songs as “Sweet Home Alabama,” “New York, New York,” and “Country Roads Take Me Home." And you’re not alone, as there are dozens of other junks in the same bay, all full of kararoke-singing tourists and way too much alcohol. Ah, welcome to Halong Bay.

It’s a three-hour bus ride east of Hanoi to the coast and Halong City, the gateway to the bay. “Halong” in Vietnamese means “Descending Dragon,” as they believe that millennia ago, dragons descended from heaven and created the eerie rocks formations as they connected with our world. Romantic idea, anyway.

And it would be quite the romantic spot, if not for our loveable European friends bringing back distant memories from our childhood and adolescent years with such songs as “Ice Ice Baby,” “Wonderwall,” and “Can’t Touch This.” We are, as usual, the lone Americans on-board, surrounded by Brits, Scots, Irish, Germans, Swedes, and even two Hungarians.

Almost as funny as our Vietnamese guide “Lucky” and the crew watching cheesy music videos from the 80’s for hours and hours before and after dinner.

The day was truly spectacular. We cruised the bay for several hours under a perfectly sunny sky - couldn’t have asked for better weather! Lunch consisted of fresh boiled prawns, seafood spring rolls, squid salad, sesame pork, and plenty of rice.

Our first stop was “Surprise Cave,” pretty to walk through. After that we stopped at a floating village and proceeded to try our hand at sea kayaking - a great workout and much tougher than it looks! We kayaked through a “cave,” really just an opening in one of the rocks about ten feet above the water, but you sail right through into this gorgeous cove surrounded on all sides by narrow soaring peaks. Awesome.

After kayaking we headed for a narrow beach - the crazy Europeans plunged right in, but the water was a little chilly for us pathetic Floridians. However, back on board before sunset, a few of the guys decided they wanted to jump off the top deck of the boat (about 30-35 feet down!).

Not wanting to be shown up, I did my Florida-redneck roots proud and was the only girl to take the plunge (even Jeremy didn’t do it!). I was so proud of myself, though I admit it was absolutely terrifying.

Definitely the biggest leap off a boat I’ve EVER taken - you get probably five seconds of air time before you connect, so you have plenty of time to think on the way down ("I'm falling...I'm still falling...Wow, I'm still falling..." Splash!)

Dinner last night was more seafood. We've been getting a kick out of educating the Europeans on how to properly peel shrimp (as the prawns here are served whole, heads and all, and you must clean them yourselves). I guess peel-and-eat shrimp never caught on in northern Europe, because they all fumble in the most endearing way and end up ripping the things to shreds.

This morning we awoke to a breakfast of eggs and toast (their bread in northern Vietnam, like much of their food, is LOADED with sugar. Our guide was explaining that they love sweet flavors in the north, while in the south it's all spice). Around 9am we docked on the largest island in the bay, Cat Ba Island, where we'll be spending the night before returning to Hanoi tomorrow.

Source: travelblog

Recommendation in Halong bay:

Ha Long Bay Cruise

Ha Long Bay Kayaking