Five craft villages to visit before Lunar New Year

Nga Do
Paying a visit to traditional craft villages such as  banh chung, peach and pomelo villages, you will feel the atmosphere of the lunar New Year (Tet holiday) in Vietnam.

Tranh Khuc - Banh Chung making village

Tranh Khuc Village in Duyen Ha Commune of Thanh Tri District, Hanoi is known throughout the country for its traditional craft of making Banh chung (square glutinous rice cake). At present nearly 200 households in the village are involved in making Banh chung to supply markets on the occasion of Tet.

In many homes all members of the family are involved in making Banh chung at their residence. Quantity varies from one household to another, averaging hundreds of cakes a day, but up to 1,500 cakes at Tet. In recent years, Banh chung made by Tranh Khuc villagers have been exported to many countries, including Russia, Australia and Thailand, mainly to meet the needs of overseas Vietnamese.

The Banh chung produced here is renowned for its distinctive flavor. Village elders are most experienced at making these special cakes and generation after generation they hand down their expertise, keeping the craft alive in Tranh Khuc Village.

Each step in making Banh chung involves a professional touch. The Dong leaves used to wrap the cakes must be large, green and untorn. After the leaf ribs and petioles are removed, they are washed and left to dry. The glutinous rice must be large-sized grains washed and drained. The green beans must be of top quality. They are husked, cooked and pounded into paste. The pork must be fresh and not too lean. It is parboiled to eliminate any odor and then cut into large pieces and marinated with spices and pepper to make it soft and delicious.

To make a cake, four or five layers of Dong leaves are used as the wrapping of the dumpling, with the green blade of the outside leave turned outward. The dumpling is made of a layer of glutinous rice, a layer of green bean topped by pork and then another layer of green bean topped by another layer of glutinous rice. The dumpling must be wrapped tightly to maintain a uniform shape. The cakes are placed into a big pot and boiled for eight to 11 hours.

The trademark of Banh chung made in Tranh Khuc Village has been registered to the Hanoi Industry and Trade Department and the National Office of Intellectual Property of Vietnam under the Ministry of Science and Technology. With its typical flavour and good quality, Banh chung of Tranh Khuc Village have been exported to many countries.

Besides making traditional Banh chung, Tranh Khuc villagers can alter the ingredients to suit the tastes of offshore customers. For example, people in Australia like to have egg added to the recipes while US customers insist on having chicken added, or the Taiwanese like to have Chinese sausage included in the Banh chung.

Tranh Khuc Village produces Banh chung all year round but the busiest time is around Tet. The trademark of Banh chung made in Tranh Khuc has become the pride of the villagers.

Incense making in Cao Thon village 

Cao Thon craft village in the northern province of Hung Yen is among the largest incense-making villages in Vietnam. This village has produced incense for hundreds of years. At present, over 100 families in the village do this traditional job. Incense plays an important role in the cultural traditions and folk beliefs of Vietnamese people. It is considered a sacred bridge between the visible life of human beings and the spiritual world of heaven, earth, and gods.

Musk-incense making is a 100-year-old traditional job in Cao Thon. In the past, there were several villages specializing in making incense. However, currently, there are only two areas maintaining this traditional job: Ha village in Trai Trang commune, Yen My district, which makes black incense, but its scale is small due to market shortage; and Cao village in Bao Khe commune, Hung Yen city, which makes musk incense.

Cao Thon musk incense has been famous and preferred for a long time and exported to some neighboring countries by wholesalers. Incense production technology is simple; the equipment can be made or purchased at a low cost; materials are vegetation products; capital for production is not high; yet not everyone is suitable for this profession. Some households operating prosperously have opened incense shops in the big cities and gained achievements including Quang Thai, Van Hoa, and Hoang Phat (Hanoi), Dong Phat (Ha Dong), Hong Phuc (Hue), Dong An Xuong (Sai Gon) and Dong An My (Hai Duong).

Currently, in Cao village, there are about 300 labourers making incense; the production output is approximately 10 million bunches; the turnover is about VND 2.5 – 3 billion per year. Incense production in Cao village is mostly at the household level; the average income per laborer is approximately VND 350,000 – 400,000 per month. The traditional incense job in Cao village has potential to develop.

Nhat Tan Flower Village

This is the most famous flower village in Hanoi. Each year, when Lunar New Year comes, people flock to Nhat Tan to buy flowers and to take photos. Nhat Tan peach flower has become a particular focus, a brand of Hanoi.

Cu Da vermicelli village

Just 20km from busy downtown Hanoi lies Cu Da Vermicelli Village, long known for its vermicelli noodles. Lying beside the calm Nhue River, Cu Da Village is a lovely old village with a long history of vermicelli-making. After being processed, dong rice flour is rolled into thin crepes that are steamed and dried on large bamboo boards, then cut into golden strands of vermicelli. Cu Da is proud of these old traditions, which have been passed down for generations. After a turbulent history, the village has retained its secret vermicelli recipe and established its brand name.  

Vermicelli noodles are called mien in Vietnamese and come in white and yellow versions. They are used mainly in noodle soup and in fried spring rolls.

Both white and yellow versions are made with arrowroot. The arrowroot is ground and mixed with water to make a paste which is spread onto large bamboo trays and dried. It is then cut into thin strips — the vermicelli — and dried again before being packaged. Although machines are now used for the spreading and cutting, it’s still a very labour-intensive process. Half of the village’s income comes from vermicelli production.

Phu Dien pomelo village

Pomelo is an indispensable fruit in the fruit tray at Tet in every family in northern Vietnam. Pomelo from Phu Dien village in Hanoi is the most famous for its special taste.

Coming to the village these days, you will see the busy atmosphere. Pomelos are piled high like small mountains at stalls along the village road. Although pomelo gardens are smaller today because of urbanization, the special fragrance from pomelo gardens can still attract visitors.

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