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Tubes of plenty

(No.9, Vol.4,Oct-Nov 2014 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)


The Muong
bamboo tube rice




Just put rice, the earth’s essence, into a bamboo tube that already has water filtered by the bamboo (heaven’s essence),
and then onto a fire. That’s all there is the art. No one remembers when it came into the life of Muong people. It is not only a simple kind of food, but also a feature of the unique Muong culture.


Chong Ro people making bamboo tube rice in Dong Nai Province. Photo: Bui Viet Dong


Bamboo tube rice. Photo: Hoai Phuong


The old ones say this is an easy-to-prepare kind of food for when Muongs are scouting the forest with only a flint stone, a machete and a few days worth of sticky rice. Just cut a section of bamboo, put some rice into it and put it on the fire. That’s how it came into being. They found it tasty and aromatic, and began making it at home, too. And now, coming to this mountainous region without tasting a few chunks of bamboo tube rice, visitors would feel that something is missing.
First, the bamboo section should be fresh, long, not too old, and not too young. Too old, and it will burn. Too young, it will wither and deform. The wall should be not too thin, and not too fat. There is normally a little water inside. It gives the rice the typical aroma that makes it appealing.
It is the famous milpa glutinous rice that makes bamboo tube rice in Hoa Binh Province different from that of other places. The rice is harvested during the months of August and September. Rinsed cleanly, soaked overnight, salted moderately, it is put into the bamboo. A little creek water is added, and the bamboo is covered tightly with banana leaves. The tubes are stood around a fire and turned regularly. It is normally cooked for about an hour. When the rice feels soft at the touch, it is ready. Ms Dinh of Mo Da Village, Ha Bi Commune, Kim Boi District, Hoa Binh Province, is famous for her bamboo tube rice. ‘The rice has to be soft, opaque, with a buttery taste and the typical aroma of forest bamboo,’ she said. ‘After splitting the bamboo, the rice grains have to retain their form. To achieve this quality, the tube has to be full of rice, and tightly shut with banana leaves. Experienced people can tell if the rice is ready just by the smell.’
Today, the life of the Muong people has changed significantly. Bamboo tube rice is not only their frequent food, but also a source of income for those living around the numerous tourist destinations of Hoa Binh Province. Ms Bui Thi Dien, a big bamboo tube rice producer of Mo Da Village, Ha Bi Commune, Kim Boi District, where the mineral water centre is located, told us that her family also has a small restaurant near the centre, which sells over 200 rice tubes a day, at VND5,000 each. They also receive orders from other food provider in the area, from Hoa Binh city and from Hanoi. Overall, rice tubes bring her family around VND100 million a year. Ms Dinh also said that cooking rice tubes has become an extra trade, apart from growing rice.


Making bamboo tube rice. Photo: Ly Ha

According to Ms Bui Thi Dung, deputy chair of the People Committee of Ha Bi Commune, Kim Boi District, tourism has turned rice tubes into a source of income for the people in her commune. ‘Rice tubes have helped improve the people’s lives. On the other hand, the local government also sees that the business has to be put under control. We have educated the people about hygiene and food safety, as well as cultural conservation. Commercialization needs to let the rice tubes be remain a cultural product. Profit should not take away the cultural beauty of the Muong bamboo tube rice,’ she said.
Rice tubes have made their way to big restaurants in the cities. But that doesn’t stop people from buying them in their native land, to bring home as an exotic gift that reveals the genuine and virgin flavour of the Muong land and helps remind urban dwellers of their own origins.


By Ly Ha
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