Unique black chung cake of Tay people in Bac Son
(LSO) – Anyone setting foot in Bac Son district of Lang Son province will never forget vast tangerine farms turning yellow when the fruit is ripe, rows of stilt houses on hillsides, and charming “then” melodies. However, Bac Son boasts many more to explore, especially the dishes that capture the heart of anyone who has ever tasted them, including “banh chung den” (black chung cake) – a traditional and unique food for the Lunar New Year (Tet) festival of the local Tay ethnic people.
Whenever Tet approaches, people in Bac Son district become busy with preparing ingredients for making black chung cakes, a tradition passed down from generation to generation in the local Tay ethnic community. Besides, to meet the market’s demand, locals nowadays make black chung cakes not only for Tet or other traditional festivals but also to sell to visitors.
Tran Thi Hai, a tourist from Hanoi, said coming to Bac Son, she tried black chung cake and found that this dish is tasty and fragrant. She bought some as a gift for her family and also asked for the producer’s telephone number to order in the future.
The black chung cake is made from the same ingredients as those of the traditional one. However, one special ingredient that makes it different from the traditional dish is the ash of glutinous rice straw, which creates the shiny black adhering to each grain of glutinous rice along with the fragrance and fresh taste of the dish.
Nguyen Thi Ly, a resident in the Nguyen Thi Minh Khai area of Bac Son township, makes black chung cakes.
Right from the 10th lunar month, the Tay people in Bac Son prepare the first ingredients for the dish. They choose big glutinous rice straws, dry and burn them into ash. After that, the ash is ground until getting smooth and mixed with sticky rice to create the dish’s special colour.
The rice to make black chung cakes must be fragrant glutinous rice with round, plump and unbroken grains. Rice is washed thoroughly before it is mixed with salt and ash. The more carefully the ingredients are mixed, the further ash is absorbed into rice and the more fragrant cakes will be. Later, the rice and the stuffing, which includes mung bean and pork, are wrapped in “dong” (phrynium placentarium) leaves. The cylindrical cakes, about 28-30cm long, are soaked in water for a short period of time before they are put into a pot full of water and cooked for about 4-5 hours. When eating, people use the bamboo strings tying the cake to cut it into slices.
Nguyen Thi Ly, a resident in the Nguyen Thi Minh Khai area of Bac Son township, has made black chung cakes for more than 20 years.
She said to meet consumers’ demand, she has produced the dish for sale since 1998. She makes about 40-50 cakes per day to sell at a price of 30,000 VND each in local markets. Restaurants or people who want to buy in bulk must place orders beforehand. In the Tet season, even when orders are placed as early as one month before the delivery date, she is still unable to fulfill all.
Aside from Ly’s family, five others in Bac Son township also produce black chung cakes for sale. Particularly, in the Tet season, almost all Tay ethnic families here make or buy this type of chung cake as an offering to ancestors or a treat for visitors.
To make this specialty more popular among consumers, about three years ago, Luu Thi Nguyet, head of the Women’s Union of Bac Son district, set up a black chung cake production group.
She said the group’s members produce black chung cakes only in the three months ahead of Tet, starting in the 10th lunar month. Most of orders are placed from the 15th day of the 12th lunar month, during which she has to hire six or seven other people to join the work. The group sells about 10,000 cakes to customers in Lang Son and other localities, even southern provinces, each year.
Pham Ba Phuong, Chairman of the People’s Committee of Bac Son township, said black chung cake is now not only the particular dish of the Tay community in Bac Son but also a favourite food of many people in neighbouring areas and visitors.
In the time ahead, the township’s Party committee and administration will push ahead with communications to raise locals’ awareness of food safety during the production process and popularise the dish so that it is known more in the market, he added.