A staple becomes a specialty in Bac Giang
No preservatives are used to make My Chu and this product has received a food safety certificate from Bac Giang province (Photo: VNA)
Residents of Thu Duong Village have to “score a century” in rice noodles every day.
So they get up very early, no matter what the weather, and start working
at 4.30am to prepare about 100 kilograms of a special rice noodle that
the village has become famous for.
The small village, about 60km away from Hanoi in Bac Giang Province,
began making the My Chu (chu rice noodles) about six decades ago.
Their skilled hands and the desire to preserve the traditional vocation
has made My Chu a popular product in the province and beyond.
The arresting sight of numerous white rice noodle sheets being sundried
on wooden panels greets those arriving in Thu Duong. Learning its
history makes the place even more interesting.
This rice noodle gets its name from the Chu Market, where a man called
Ca Tong began selling them all those years ago. A native of neighboring
Hai Duong Province, Ca Tong was brought to Bac Giang by a Chinese man
who’d adopted him when he was very small.
It was his foster father who taught Ca Tong the basic steps of making
rice noodles, said 38-year-old Tran Duc Phuoc, Tong’s great grandson.
Because it had a distinct taste and was only sold in that market, people
began calling it My Chu, a name that has stuck to this day.
Another thing that the villages have stuck to is the old way of making rice noodles, with almost all steps done by hand.
The first step is to wash and remove all the dirt from the rice. It is
then softened by soaking in water for up to three hours and later
transferred to a grinder after adding fresh water.
“Chu noodles are made purely with rice, a bit of water and oil, so
choosing the right rice variety is very important,” said Nguyen Thi Sam,
a 41-year-old woman whose family has been doing it for generations.
Phuoc nodded in agreement. “In the old days, they used the bao thai hong
variety, which was grown in the Chu hill area. This variety of rice was
very famous for its unique aroma, texture and stickiness, and perfectly
suited to making good noodles,” he said.
Nowadays, as production of bao thai hong rice declines and the number of
households making the rice noodles increase, it has become difficult to
use the original rice. The villages now use the “203” variety that can
be found locally or in the provinces of Thai Binh and Nam Dinh.
“The quality of rice we use now must be as good as bao thai hong rice,”
Phuoc said, adding, “using good quality rice will not only make the
noodles tastier and chewier, but will also increase the quantity.”
By late afternoon the rice has become white flour and the villagers
leave it until next morning, when the water stands clear from the rice.
Sam stressed that "besides rice, the water used is an important factor that decides the quality of My Chu".
“We are so grateful for the natural water sources in the region. From
the very beginning we have used well water, which is fresh, free from
chemicals and has a lightly sweet taste,” she said.
After removing the water from the rice flour mixture, the flour has to be spread out with meticulous care to avoid any lumps.
In the past, a ladle was used to spread the flour on a cloth stretched
over boiling water, but this step has been taken over by a machine that
creates the rice noodle sheets.
Flat rice sheets are then spread out on mats to dry in the sun until they are totally dry and transparent.
To make it easier to cut the noodle sheets into smaller strips, the rice sheets are softened with a bit of warm water and oil.
“Previously, lard was used at this stage, but it has been replaced with
vegetable oil because it is more popular and convenient,” Phuoc said.
Once the noodles are cut, they are dried in the sun again before being packed.
Since it can be used for many different dishes, the strips are of various sizes.
“This noodle is made purely from rice and is free of any preservatives,
so it is more nutritious and healthy than other instant noodles,” said
My Chu has been granted a safe food certificate by the Bac Giang’s
Department of Industry and Trade. It was recognised as a “symbolic
industrial product” of the northern region in 2014, and as one of the
most trusted products nationwide in 2013.
My Chu’s fame has since spread beyond the country’s borders, with
exports to several overseas markets including the Republic of Korea,
mainland China, Taiwan and the UK.
“It is a pity that we sometimes fail to get deals with big customers
because there is not enough sunlight to dry the noodles,” said Nguyen
Van Nam, Director of the Rice Noodle Co-operative.
Inclement weather is not just a major challenge standing in the way of
the noodle makers expanding their markets, it can also hurt them.
“At times, some households have had to dispose of several dozen tonnes of noodles because they could not dry them,” said Nam.
The village has proposed to provincial authorities that they help import
modern drying equipment so that villagers could make noodles on rainy
days, too, increasing productivity as well as income.
Out of 333 households in the village, 287 are engaged in making rice
noodles. Each household makes an average of nearly 100kg of noodles
every sunny day.
“The My Chu making tradition has played an important role in reducing poverty in the village," Nam said.
A villager can earn about 5million VND (220 USD) on average a month, and
the villagers are hoping to increase this to 6million VND (270 USD)
With more than a hint of pride, Nam added: “As villagers have a stable
job making rice noodles, they’ve refused to work in the area’s