Tò He – an edible traditional toy of Vietnam

Nga Do
Despite the overwhelming influx of modern toys, Vietnamese little boys and girls still find it exciting to receive one or two Tò He from their parents. This edible traditional toys made from glutinous rice powder is one of the rare surviving traditional toys of Vietnam.

Tò He – an edible traditional toy of Vietnam
Photo by HaiRobe
A unique way to tell stories

Tò He or Vietnamese toy figurine is a traditional toy for children in Vietnam made from edible  glutinous rice powder in variety forms of figurines attached on the top of bamboo sticks. Tò He was made and sold in public places like parks, gardens or historical attractions, especially on the occasion of festivals like Tết and the Mid-Autumn. This rare surviving traditional toy of Vietnam has been preserved as a cultural ambassador and continuously developed for hundreds of years.

Dating back to the 17th century, as there was no film or picture book for children, Vietnamese created Tò He as a way to visualize the characters in a story in order to make it more interesting and easy to imagine. The stories can be Vietnamese folk tales about the Moon, the dragon, national heroes, or sometimes they are just simple descriptions of animals to the kids so that they can recognize them. For examples, mice those have pointed noses and long tails always find ways to destroy crops, while striped fur tigers with sharp fangs are the ferocious kings of the jungle.

As the time gone by, Tò He in shapes of soldiers, teachers, and policemen got popular because at that time they were moral examples in Vietnamese society. In the next years, foreign movies and Japanese animes were shown in Vietnam, and the children then began to be attracted by fiction heroes like Sailor Moon, Gao Rangers or Sun Wukong – the King Monkey, therefore Tò He craft men started to create these characters. Nowadays, the model for Tò He is globalized, from Fruit Robos to the Minions, from Pikachu to the Angry Birds, Tò He has still been children’s favourite handheld toy.  In general, the characters tend to be cute and childish rather than realistic like in the previous time. Some craftsmen also replace the bamboo sticks with ballpoint pens or pencils.

The key to success lies in the dough

The main ingredients to create a Tò He figurine is a mixture of glutinous rice powders, edible colors as well as bamboo sticks. According to the craftsmen, the key to success lies in the preparation of the dough.  The craftsman first has to grind rice into a fine powder, then pours water into the powder and mixes it until it becomes  a really sticky mixture that is easy to knead by hand. After that, they add edible food colour into the mixture and continue to knead the dough until the food coloring has fully incorporated in it and then steam it. There are seven basic colours of Tò He are vivid green, sea blue, red, purple, yellow, white and black. Finally, craftsmen shape the Tò He by hand and attach it to the top of a bamboo stick or a pen. The procedure of making Tò He is not so complicated but it requires the utmost patience from the craftsman. Besides, there is not a real lesson of Tò He making, sons and daughters get the skill from their parents solely through watching and self-learning.

Visit Xuan La Village to make your own Tò He

If you are in Hanoi and neighboring provinces, you can spend an afternoon visiting Xuan La village, the oldest and most well-known village making Tò He in Vietnam, especially if you are traveling with kids. Located in Phu Xuyen District, only 40 km from Hanoi center, the village is a great place to have some fun discovering Tò He making produce as well as Vietnamese traditions. Here you will have a chance to talk to skillful craftsmen and taught to make your own Tò He. The Tò He class is usually held by friendly and experienced villagers in about 2 hours. It is really ideal for a family trip and the kids will love this interesting colourful class for sure.

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