Cốm – Autumn’s special gifts for Hanoian

Nga Do
"Cốm" (green sticky rice) is a delicacy that is made only in autumn and cherished by all Vietnamese. For Hanoians, nothing evokes autumn like the taste of young rice from Vong village, the grain so sweetly scented that they left a lasting impression... Hanoian appreciate this gift of Autumn as much as they call it a distinctive feature of the thousand-year-old capital. To make Cốm, there is a complicated process that Vietnamese farmers have cleverly invented and developed for hundreds years. Among all Cốm production villages, Vong village has been considered to have the most tastiest Cốm.

“Cốm” season

Cốm is a type of rice flake which could easily be recognised by its green colour. Cốm only appears in Autumn. Its green colour is natural since people only harvested green glutinous rice grains when they have not yet been mature. The word “Cốm” pronounced “kohm” with an upward interrogative tone can be easily misunderstood with “Cơm” which means the common rice. There are three types of “Cốm”, which is distinguished by the time it harvested. “Cốm” made at the beginning of Autumn is usually thin and softer, therefore it is best to eat it directly or with banana. Mid-season “Cốm” is perfect to mix with ground pork to make the special Vietnamese fried pork sausage; while the latter harvested “Cốm” are often big, thick, and suitable for cooking with other ingredients.

Since Cốm is regarded as a precious seasonal ingredient, connoisseurs recommend chewing on just a pinch at a time to truly savor the natural sweetness of the rice. Slowly enjoy Cốm to savour its subtle scents, tastes, and softness.

Vong villagers choose best grains to make Cốm

Cốm in different parts of Vietnam tastes distinctly; however, Cốm from Vong village (Lang Vong), located on the outskirts of Hanoi, is considered to have the best taste. The rice grown in Vong village is wonderfully flavored and fragrant, that can only be grown and harvested in this village.

According to the villagers, they have been making Cốm for at least 700 years. The process of growing, harvesting, and processing the rice is apparently a long-guarded secret of farming families of that village. It’s been said that in the past only sons and daughters-in-laws were able to know how to make Cốm since once married a daughter may reveal the recipe to her husband and his family.

Though the secret to bring out the best taste of Cốm is still kept among families, the process consists following steps. At the beginning of the season, young glutinous rice is carefully selected since they are in their blossom. For the best Cốm, only grains of nep hoa vang, a variety of sticky rice that yields smallish round grains, is used. To check the readiness of the grains, Vong farmers pick and bite on some of the raw grains. If it tastes as sweet as milk, then it is harvest time. Grains that are too old won’t have a nice green coloring. Grains that are too young will fall apart when pounded. The grain must be manually threshed and cleaned, before being roasted with a stoneware pan over low and steady firewood. The dried grains are then pounded in a mortar and stirred frequently from bottom to top to remove all the husks. The winnowing and pounding happen exactly seven times to remove the husk. If there’s too much pounding, the rice loses its green cask and turns brown. Once done, the finished Cốm is carefully stored in layers of lotus leaves so that it may remain fresh and tender. The final result is glossy green Cốm, soft and slightly chewy, that cannot be found anywhere else. People also dry “Cốm” to extend the expiry date though the taste then is not the best.

Nowadays, thanks to convenient means of transport, many Hanoians send Vong Village’s  "Cốm" to their relatives in other parts of the country, and even abroad, as a special gift. By this way, the delicious taste of "Cốm" always stays in the hearts of Hanoians wherever they live. To those who have ever been involved in farming, eating "Cốm" often reminds them of a fresh and fragrant paddy.

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