News - January 22, 2020 | 04:59 pm PT

Family stokes festive spirit with sticky rice cakes

This year, Nguyen Thi Hau, 50, from Lo Khe Village in Hanoi, hired 20 helpers to create traditional rice cakes as festivities slowly draw near.

Like many others in Hanoi's Lo Khe Village, Dong Anh District, Nguyen Thi Hau's family annually make banh chung, or Vietnamese sticky rice cake, for Tet, or Lunar New Year. Among the 100 largest facilities in the village, her family produces around 6,000 cakes per festival.
Hau hires around 20 helpers who work four days (from the last Saturday of the lunar year to Tuesday) to make and deliver the cakes to customers on time. Sticky rice cakes from Lo Khe have been popular since 2000, when production dropped and demand increased. This year, the seven-day festival starts on Thursday.
Besides sticky rice and mung beans, Vietnamese sticky rice cakes also require either pork belly or shoulder. Salt and pepper are added to the meat to enhance flavor. Due to higher pork prices this year, cakes now cost up to VND60,000-70,000 ($2.59-3.02) apiece.
Sticky rice used to produce the cakes must be homegrown, with mung beans rounded and soaked in water for two-three hours so their skins crack evenly. When preparing the filling, instead of steaming the beans first like other families, Hau would first mix them with salt.
The filling is made of beans and pork. Each cake weighs from 700 gr to 1.5 kg, depending on customer request.
Those hired by Hau are fellow villagers familiar with the process. Each earn VND3,000 per completed cake, totalling from VND600,000 to VND800,000 per day.
The cakes are piled up in a large pot for boiling.
Several families in Lo Khe have switched to electric stoves so cakes could be boiled more quickly. However, Hau still uses wood and coal to prepare her cakes.
Banh chung are typically boiled for fix to six hours. "I stayed up all night since yesterday to feed the flames and add water to the pot so the cakes could cook evenly and not turn out raw," said Thinh, 32, one of Hau's helpers.
After boiling, the cakes are left to dry and cool, before distribution.
Hau enlists the help of taxis to lower travel costs. Most Lo Khe customers, often convention centers or unions, order the cakes in bulk. The family also ships them to customers in other places in the northern region and the south.
Lo Khe rice cakes come in square and round form.

Thanh Hue