Can Tho specialties

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Delicious and memorable dishes
Date: 24/03/2020

Food is always considered as a part of the urban “soul”. Cai Rang District, one of the central urban areas of Can Tho City, proves its long-term development via delicious and memorable dishes...
Despite his old age and weak health, Mr. Ngu Hai still keeps his family’s trade of making soy sauce.

* "Old taste and old flavor" of the one-hundred-year soy sauce

Ngu Hai Soy Sauce, in a small alley in Thanh My Area, Le Binh Ward, Cai Rang District, always spreads out the good smell of freshly cooked soy sauce, attracting more and more customers from other places to buy. Mr. Ngu Hai, the owner, informs us that a lot of visitors have come here to look for the old taste and flavor of soy sauce.

Mr. Ngu Hai is an elderly man (77 years old), so Ms. Ma Thi Ghet, his wife, cares for most of this manufacturer’s work.  The factory was named Ngu Hai after he took over the family business 40 years ago because his 11 brothers and sisters lived on other jobs. In the time of Mr. Ngu Nham (i.e. Mr. Ngu Hai’s grandfather), this factory was called Nam Hung Loi, located on the bank of Cai Rang River, then taken over by Mr. Ngu Luong (i.e Mr. Ngu Hai’s father. Due to its delicious heirloom taste and reasonable price, many customers came to buy his soy sauce. In fact, boats and ships anchored closely one by one, and customers were standing in line waiting for their turns to load products.

Mr. Ngu Hai confided that, although the market share of traditional factories was later shrunk, he still keeps the profession. A traditional mold of soy sauce has to go through many stages: selecting and boiling beans, mixing paste, fermenting, salting, extracting, cooking cane sugar ... are carefully calculated, because a small mistake may make the soy sauce unsuccessful. Mr. Ngu Hai uses beautiful, firm, clean and smooth beans. Yeast is imported from Indonesia. Cast iron skillet is replaced with stainless steel one so as to quickly absorb heat and to be easily cleaned. Soy sauce is fermented in small jars instead of big ones, using the square glass lid, so that the soy sauce is exposed to the sun, and there is no need to cover it in the rain...

Mr. Ngu Hai is proud of his heirloom soy sauce with tender and fragrant soybeans. Each mold is naturally fermented. He says, “Three generations of the Ngu have lived well on this traditional trade, so my wife and I have been preserving it. Our descendants, if possible, are to take over this career.”

* Coffee prepared with a cloth filter in the middle of the urban market

Over the past 30 years, Mr. Minh and his wife, Ms. Nguyet, have kept Minh Nguyet Coffee famous for gourmet filtered coffee

Minh Nguyet Coffee on Le Thai To Street, in Cai Rang Market, is open from 5:00 AM. The small shop has only 4 sets of folding tables and chairs, so some customers who are not familiar with one another have to share the same tables. However, no one leaves the shop. The coffee’s owners are Mr. Ma Lien Minh and his wife, Ms. Tran Thi Thu Nguyet, who prepare the coffee and serve their customers. Mr. Minh says, “Recently, a lot of customers and tourists have chosen to enjoy this old fashioned coffee. Others come here to take photos or to film the coffee pot, the cloth filter, or the scene of pouring coffee.”

 Minh Nguyet Coffee’s with cloth filters at Cai Rang Market.

A cup of coffee is brewed in the old fashioned way using water boiled on a charcoal stove. After putting the cloth filter and the earthen pot in hot water, the shop owners put a few teaspoons of the coffee powder (coffee beans that Mr. Minh has bought, roasted and ground by himself) in the cloth filter and put the filter in a stainless steel barrel over the top of the earthen pot. Then pour boiling water into the pot, cover the lid and let it sit for a while. Finally, the ready coffee is poured into cups. A small charcoal stove with a low fire is for boiling water to scald out the cups to prepare hot coffee or hot coffee with milk…. “This way of brewing coffee is somewhat time-consuming, but its warmth produces a very special aroma," says Ms. Nguyet.

The bartender puts all his heart into the hot aromatic coffee pot. The customers are almost regular ones. Some people working far away from home on the way to return their hometown usually stop by the market and the coffee shop so as to "enjoy a cup of coffee for satisfaction." Mr. Do Khen, who has spent more than half his life drinking coffee at Minh Nguyet’s, has confided, “In the early mornings, it is usually cold. If you can sip a cup of hot coffee, then your heart feels warm. The aroma from coffee and from the charcoal smoke provokes many nostalgic feelings in my mind ...”

* 40 years of iced mung beans (đá đậu) by Mr. Tam Thi Dong

“Now there are many shops and drinks of all kinds, so our shop does not have a lot of custom as it used to, but I can earn enough to support ourselves. Personally, it is enough for me as my shop is still remembered,” Mr. Thi Dong or Mr. Tám Đá Đậu, confides about his 40 years of preserving this heirloom iced mung beans.

 The plane made of wood at Mr. Tam Thi Dong’s shop.

Mr. Tam's shop is opposite Cai Rang Market. Although it serves some other popular drinks, the most popular option that customers order is the iced mung beans. Mr. Tam informs that he gets up at 4:00 AM every in order to choose and soak beans, wash and steam them. Meanwhile, he grates the coconut and squeezes coconut juice. He always chooses coconut, neither too dry nor too wet, to have delicious juice for longer use. When steamed beans and coconut juice are ready, Mr. Tam put them in glass jugs on the counter. Each glass of iced mung beans is only VND 10,000, with mung beans, red beans, kidney beans, tapioca, finely grated ice, covered with aromatic coconut juice and crunchy roasted peanuts on top. This special taste stays in customers’ minds for a long time when they have a chance to try it once....

Once in a while, the shop is empty. Mr. Tam thinks of the time when his drink was the first option among the students in the past. He remembers, “In the 1980s, my shop was crowded with students, so I, every day, had to cook about 5 kg of mung beans, more than half of which was sold out. However, in the present, I can cook and sell only about 2 kg of mung beans." Business does not go so well. But if anyone advises him to retire, he simply refuses.

Mr. Tam is now 73 years old, and the shop was handed over by his parents in 1975. Over the past 40 years, the shop has moved many times, sometimes into the central market, sometimes to the pier and now the bank. However, wherever it moves, customers still come to his shop because of the glass of his delicious, sweet mung beans with finely grated ice,  the old fashioned wooden plane…Nowhere else can such recollection be found. This drink usually evokes the nostalgia for childhood far in the past of many people.

Source: Can Tho Newspaper - Translated by Diep Truong

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