Life Life

19/07/2020 - 10:01

Areca flowers in the bowl

My friend’s house is in a village in the suburb of the city. Visiting it on Sunday, we hoped to once again lie on the black wooden divan that she once said she had inherited from her great-grandfather. It was on this divan that we girls were packed like sardines talking endlessly every time we visited her guava and star fruit garden.

The aroma of che bong cau is kept deep down in the bowl like the beauty of a girl that is hidden, but never revealed. Photo: Ngoc Ha

In lunar April, her mother cooked che bong cau for worshipping on the full-moon day. Che bong cau is a sweet dish made from mung beans, sugar and cassava flour. It is easy to cook che bong cau, but to have che bong cau that looks as beautiful as her mom’s is an art. It is as if a bunch of areca flowers that bloom in the bowl, giving a good aroma of the countryside garden.

Her mother has kept the tradition of cooking che bong cau on full-moon days since the day she became a wife till now when she has been a mother-in-law. She still cherishes the memories of the first day being a daughter-in-law of Nam Pho Village and her mother-in-law showed her how to cook che bong cau with love: “Your grandmom likes it a lot, and it is easy to cook. Don’t worry. I’ll show you how to make it.”

It has been more than half a century. The new bride at the time is now wearing white hair with spots on her skin. Her first lesson at her husband’s home was how to cook che bong cau.

Her adolescence suddenly came back when she met again her daughter’s friends who had often climbed up the trees for fruits. She ladled che bong cau into the bowls while whispering its beauty, that it was modest but delicate, and that it had the feminine beauty. 

The secret is how to make che bong cau smooth and transparent, highlighting light yellow steamed mung beans, looking like small areca flowers. The aroma of che bong cau is kept deep down in the bowl like the beauty of a girl that is hidden, but never revealed. 

As a daughter of such a caring women, it was no wonder that among girl students at the village school at the time, my friend was always the most charming, well-behaved and skillful one of all. 

Is che bong cau so modest and not elegant? Once attending a ceremony at a beautiful garden house in Kim Long, I had a chance to see che bong cau very well cooked by a Hue woman both traditional and modern. Her che bong cau was so good that everyone admired it. 

Her che bong cau was contained in old-styled bowls placed on a brass tray. It looked as soft as bunches of flowers and very Vietnamese. Now, many people add coconut cream to che bong cau to give it another taste, but it prevents us from seeing the areca flowers and spoils the good smell of steamed mung beans and pure flavor of rock sugar.

Areca palms give beautiful flowers in lunar April. The sun goes through their leaves spreading in the blue sky, bringing peace to people. 

Looked from above, the areca palm has the shape of a dragon head and the tail of a phoenix. There is a riddle by people in the old days: “What flowers with dragon heads and phoenix tails. Eggs are hatched in winter and become youngsters in summer?” The old areca palms grown by her great-grandfather have been replaced with the new ones by her father to contribute to keeping the fame of “Nam Pho areca nuts and Cho Dinh betel.” His quiet love comes from inside his soul.

On the porch of her house on a sunny day, we sat enjoying each small spoon of che, feeling the delicate taste on the tip of the tongue. Things have changed except one. That is her mother’s che bong cau with a subtle aroma until the last spoon, like the softened fragrance of areca flowers in season, floating in the wind. It is her mother’s che bong cau that makes us stay with our land.

Story: XUAN AN