Rice cooking competitions (thi thoi com)
Tet, a number of villages in northern and central Vietnam hold cooking
contests that may sound simple, but follow strict and complex rules:
Cooking in the wind and rain. Tu Trong Village, Thanh Hoa Province has a
temple dedicated to the 11th century warrior Le Phung Hieu.
the temple's weeklong festival the first week of Tet, villagers hold
culinary competitions: cooking ordinary rice in water, steaming sticky
rice and making rice cakes.|
Contestants cook in the open air
while in a bamboo boat floating on the village pond. Charcoal, the usual
fuel, is prohibited. Instead, each competitor receives some dried sugar
cane, which burns only with difficulty. The challenge increases if it
is windy and raining. Each contestant must set her rice pot in exactly
the right place to take advantage of the wind and avoid extinguishing
competition begins precisely at dawn. Hundreds of boats are tied up
along the pond bank since as many as 200 young women may participate.
a salvo of drumbeats, competitors step into their boats, bringing along
cooking tripods, rice pots, some damp straw and fuel. They row to the
centre of the pond, make a fire and wash the rice.
A second salvo
of drumbeats sounds, punctuated by three final beats, the competition
starts. The cooking may be done in one pot after another or by using all
pots al the same time. The tiny, light boat sways with the competitor's
every movement, keeping the craft stable while cooking is like
performing a circus act. The competitor who finishes first wins, but
quality also counts. People from many villages watch from the pond bank,
mothers who have trained their girls for months impatiently wait for
the results of their efforts. Other women take advantage of the occasion
to look for prospective daughters-in-law who are both good cooks and
can also face difficulties with calmness.
for boys and girls villagers in Chuong Village of Ha Tay Province
organise similar competitions separately for boys and girls. Female
participants must cook rice on the ground while simultaneously carrying a
six-to seven-month-old baby from another family on her hip. She must
console the infant when he or she cries. At the same time, she must
prevent a toad from jumping out of a chalk circle drawn around her. The
competition is all the more difficult because the spectators, especially
children, take every opportunity to tease the baby.
contest for boys is no less rigorous. Each boy must stand ready with
all the necessary items (rice, water, matches and firewood) on a light
boat moored the pond bank. At a given signal he paddles with his hands
to the opposite bank, where a row of pots is placed on tripods. He must
stay in his unmoored boat while cooking the rice on the bank. The least
loss of balance tosses him over into the water.
In Tich Son
Village of Vinh Phuc Province, a cooking competition takes place on the
morning of the fourth day after Tet. The finished rice must meet
particular criteria of taste and consistency. Contestants use two pots.
First they boil the rice in a copper pot over the fire. Once the water
boils, they pour both the rice and water into an earthen pot and cook
the rice over charcoal until done.