The rice cooking festival is held annually on the eighth day of the first lunar month, recalling the legend of General Phan Tay Nhac, who is believed to have lived during the reign of 18th Hung King. As the legend goes, the general launched the contest in the village on his way to the battle in order to to find the best cook to serve his soldiers.
Early in the morning the 8th day of the first lunar month, the village notables gather at the communal house with offerings for a ceremony dedicated to the Spirit Protector. Also, a council is appointed, consisting of a number of notables and experienced cooks, to organize and supervise the contest.
Many groups (Giap) in the village take part. Each group has its own leader. All groups dress in traditional tunics – white pants, dark long dresses – but with belts of different colours. A music band, drums and gongs also contribute to both the liveliness and the solemnity of the contest. The contest is divided into 3 distinct stages:
Water fetching contest
One person from each group takes part. A symbolic military post is set up, and the contestants start running from the post to the bank of the Nhue River, about 1,000 metres. Four big bottles of water await the runners at a designated spot on the bank of the river. The first person back with a bottle wins the first stage for his group.
After completion of the first stage, “Water fetching contest” comes the second stage, the “fire making contest”.
Fire making contest
Two people from each group take part with several thin pieces of bamboo and a wisp of straw as tinder. The two people must use the friction between 2 pieces of dry bamboo to make fire. The fire first takes the form of smoke. The men must blow into the fire with the help of the tinder. This was the traditional method of fire-making in rural areas of Viet Nam in ancient times. The group that can produce fire first is the winner of the second stage.
Rice cooking contest
This stage comprises three integrated events as follows:
– to turn paddy into rice (by husking, sifting, etc.)
– to whiten the rice.
– to cook rice.
Examiners of the Organizing Committee will taste rice from all rice pots and award the prizes.
In the beginning, 6 people from each group (Giap) take part in the contest. Two persons use a pestle to separate rice, bran and rice husk, and to whiten it. Then a small quantity of rice is used for cooking just enough for a “cult” bowl of rice (which is equal to two bowls of rice). Rice must be cooked with a straw fire, the burning straw enveloping the whole pot in order to ensure that the rice is well cooked. In order to prolong the cooking time and ensure the quality of the cooked rice, the groups usually build many straw fires, making the work of the examiners more difficult and time-consuming.
The third stage lasts for about two hours, and ends with the examiners’ decision on the prize. Then the prize ceremony for the whole festival begins.
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