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07/06/2017 - 10:22

“Kitchen gadgets” of a cuisine artisan

When we started talking about cooking, artisan Ton Nu Ha surprisingly brought out dozens of her kitchen tools that just hearing about, we could somehow understand the reputed sophistication of Hue cuisine.

ophisticatedly decorated dishes are made by artisan Ton Nu Ha with her skillful hands and special kitchen tools

Introducing a part of this special "collection", the artisan spread a thick cloth on a large table. She carefully introduced them one by one. "This one is for whittling. This one is used for cutting. This one is used to trimming…,” she explained the usage of each tool, with a myriad of technical terms that make an outsider easily get "dizzy".

That was just a part of a bigger collection filling a large cabinet, including dozens of kitchen knives with various sizes. Many of look them are from famous brands of Switzerland, Germany, Japan, US, China, Thailand and so on. However, after almost a whole lifetime pursuing the career, Mrs. Ha's favorite items are those ordered from the craft villages. "When I was young and whenever I had chance to go to Ha Noi, I borrowed my friend's bike, pedaling 50km to Da Sy village in Ha Dong to see people forging," the artisan recalls.

 

fter many visits to the village, each of which, she brought home some favorite things. Later, living in Hue, she often looked for skilled craftsmen in the village of Hien Luong to order her utensils. "The foreign brand could luxurious outside. Vietnamese brands are more rustic, with bamboo or wooden handles, but their usefulness and sharpness is outstanding," she said in pride.

With the sophistication of Hue cuisine that gives rise to not only great appetite and great aroma but also pleasant look, the tools available in the craft villages are not sufficient, so Mrs. Ha has to “rack her brain” to think and create new tools. She often tries to find famous craftsmen to have her tools made with various sizes and shapes. One is as tiny as a bistoury. One is made from a piece of a broken saw blade. One is only used to trim the thin silk peel of tomatoes. One is specially made for cutting Thanh Tra grapefruit into Hue’s lanterns. One looks like a hook to trim vegetables, tubers, fruit into a shape of dragon, phoenix and so on. "Sometimes she came and ordered unusual tools. So sophisticated. At first I did not take her order because it was too difficult and time-consuming. But I’ve gotten used to it now; I would miss her when not seeing her come back for a long time," a craftsman near Cua Huu (Hue city) talked about  his “customer”  Ton Nu Ha.

 

To introduce the usage of unusual tools, the artisan quietly brought out a tomato and a carrot. Minutely and  cautiously, her hands started pressing, slitting ... lissomly moving as a dancer. In a little while, charming and beautiful flowers “bloomed" in the gifted hands. That is also the way she created her royal dishes which made her famous. "Whenever I have opportunities to treat or instruct visitors, I spend lots of time talking about the goodness and preciousness of Vietnamese cuisine. When they see the kitchen tools here, they express their enjoyment and admiration. Many of them expect me to give them something as a souvenir or for practice later. They say these tools are only in Hue cuisine, only in Mrs. Ha's place," she laughed with great happiness.

Considering kitchen tools as soul mates, Mrs. Ha confided it is part of the key to her success. Nowadays, although cooking is more advanced, to the family that has three generations keeping this job, some key traditional tools are irreplaceable. Therefore, sometimes, she went to craft villages for orders to use, present and send to Ho Chi Minh city to her daughter who is teaching cuisine courses.

Artisan Ton Nu Ha instructs a trainee

The unique kitchen tools of artisan Ton Nu Ha suddenly reminds me of the Korean Kimchi. It's not only famous around the world, but also has a monumental, modern museum of its own.

For enthusiasts like Mrs. Ha, they are expecting, that some day Vietnam will have a museum of cuisine. At that time, perhaps the unique kitchen tools of Hue people will have opportunities to "tell" the world about the limitless quintessence and creativity of the cuisine in this place.

By Kim Oanh - Translated by Le Thao

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