Culture Culture

22/06/2018 - 10:08

Once renowned De Rice at An Cuu

Despite the fact that in the course of the ups and downs of the history, almost all the rice fields at An Cuu Village have been transformed into densely-populated urban areas, the variety of rice typical of this old village remains engraved on Hue people’s mind. It is a special species of fragrant rice selected to be honorably offered to the imperial family during the Nguyen Lords and Nguyen Kings’ times.

Tien Nong Shrine is still  practically Intact at An Cuu Village

Hue formerly had a wide variety of “De” rice. According to the folk memory, they are the long-cycle indigenous summer paddy varieties. In particular, An Cuu’s “De” Rice, a fragrant paddy variety, is honorably named “hương canh” (fragrant farm product).

It is because of its high value and rarity that the variety was almost exclusively offered to the royal family, with some rare exceptions only to the royal nobility of Hue. At present, the vestiges of the paddy variety can still be traced to in the local geographical names "the Lord's Rice Field" (that is, the Nguyen Lords) and the name “10 Hectares of Fragrant Paddy Cultivation” (referring to the Nguyen Dynasty) in the An Cuu field, an ancient, well-known appellation associated with the early history of Thuan Hoa Region.

In the course of history, Đại Nam Nhất thống chí (A collection of geography and history of Vietnam in the Nguyen Dynasty) records that An Cuu’s “De” Rice is a special variety of fragrant paddy available at different places in the province, that is suitable for lowland fields. However, the top quality paddy in An Cuu Village named An Cuu fragrant paddy had to be supplied to the royalty yearly.

Usually, there are two varieties of “De” paddy, identified by color, including gold “De” paddy and white “De” paddy. These are transplanted in October and turn ripe in March. Gold “De” paddy is characterized by hard stalks, thick ears, and long, white grains. This variety produces fragrant and soft cooked rice. In contrast, white“De” paddy boasts yellowish rice grains, producing white and fragrant rice (QSQ Nguyen Dynasty, Dai Nam Nhat Thong Chi, Thuan Hoa Publishing House, 1997, Volume I, pp. 250-251).

By the end of the nineteenth century, An Cuu’s “De” Rice was historically recognized as a unique product: "Fragrant Paddy Speciality in An Cuu Commune" or "Only  An Cuu Commune has the fragrant paddy variety" (QSQ Nguyen Dynasty, Đồng Khánh địa dư chí (A set of geography books in Chinese, written by King Dong Khanh), Social Sciences Publishing House, 2003, pp. 1417, 1425).

Two stelae in the Hương canh (Fragrant Rice) field at An Cuu Village were found and preserved by the people

Under the Nguyen Dynasty, according to the law of the 28th year of the Tu Duc Dynasty (1875), An Cuu Village had to reserve 10 hectares of high-class paddy field from the local public farm for 50 people to "cultivate fragrant paddy, and dry in accordance with the stipulations", and offered 70 hoc (a unit of weight measurement) of rice paddy to the Imperial Family yearly.

With the characteristic values recorded in the history books, and recognized as a renowned typical product to be offered to the Royal Family in the Nguyen Lords and Nguyen Kings Court’s times, it was clear that the fragrant An Cuu’s “De” Rice owns various nutritional values as well as a unique position in cultural history.

Historical materials show that more than 13 hectares of An Cuu’s renowned, fragrant paddy field were farmed at three sites in An Cuu Village: Lord’s paddy land, Huong Canh paddy land and Bau Bong paddy land. Regrettably, in the process of solving urgent short-term food demands, the high-yieldshort-cycle paddy varieties have totally replaced the long-cycle, high-quality traditional paddy varieties in Central Vietnam areas specializing in summer rice crop, including the once renowned fragrant paddy - “De” Rice.

On the other hand, recreating the royal Hue royal cuisine to develop tourism services without the once local typical products such as An Cuu’s “De” Rice is a matter of great concern. Urged by great enthusiasm, Dr. Phan Phuoc Hien (Ho Chi Minh City University of Agriculture and Forestry) came to the Gene Bank of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines with the desire to "repatriate" dozens of An Cuu’s De paddy varieties.

The authorities of Thua Thien Hue Province, of Hue City and that of the tourism services need to pool efforts to put this program into practice right in An Cuu Village in order to generate various unique cultural tourism values from Hue‘s traditional origin.

Since the 1980s, Ms. Phan Thi Hoat's family in An Cuu Ward has realized the unique value of the two stellae scattered near the edge of the village rice field. With a rickshaw, they had those stellae brought to a corner of their garden. According to researcher Ho Vinh, they are the two stellae naming 10 hectares of fragrant paddy field of An Cuu Village, with the inscription of five Chinese characters of Hương Canh Điền Thập Mẫu (10 hectares of fragrant paddy cultivation). Each of the two stelae, made of Thanh Hoa Province’s stone, is 1.02m high, 0.27m wide and 0.15m thick.

Worthy of note is that Phan Thi Hoat's family had the good intentions of donating these two precious objects to the Hue Cultural Museum. The Vietnam National Culture and Art Institute Branch in Hue together with Ho Vinh researcher proposed positioning the two stellae right in front of Tien Nong Shrine in An Cuu Village, preparing for a long-term master plan in coordination with the Vietnam Association of Culinary Culture.

Story and photos: Tran Dinh Hang