Life Life

28/06/2018 - 07:48

Sticky rice with corn and mashed green bean

As a matter of routine, every morning, we all, the tenant students in the neighborhood, woke up to the cries of the old “nanny” selling sticky rice with corn and green bean. And as such, the sounds and the steaming hot packages of flavorous sticky rice with corn follow our footsteps on the journey of university life.

Time passing so quickly, just in a blink of an eye, my friends and I are all graduated from university. Some stayed, and some moved away. As luck would have it, I find a job in  Hue. That is, my wish to “devote my entire youth” to my love of the city came true. And whenever I think about those breakfasts of steaming package of sticky rice with corn, I find myself brought back to the old neighborhood, waiting to hear the old nanny’s dear and familiar cries for her ware.

A full belly of sticky rice with  corn and mashed green beans

As we grew up, the old woman got aged. She was no longer capable of carrying the heavy basket of sticky rice with corn to sell around our neighborhoods. She chose a little corner on Ha Huy Tap Street to continue selling the treat, along with great help from her younger brother who had been with her his whole life.

Once I knew her fixed sale place, my visits to her increased, especially during the cold winter days. Each time she saw me from afar, she would smile and say: “2 sticky rice with corns, just little sugar, and lots of peanuts, right?” Then she would happily hand out the food to me, her real faithful customer.

In Hue, we have a lot of peddlers who sell delicious sticky rice with corn, but I still prefer buying from our Nanny. Her sticky rice with corn consistently keeps good flavor. I never have mushy or half-cooked sticky rice with corn from her. The ground peanut accompanying the food is always just right, never too sweet or too salty.

On those mornings when I did not feel pressed for time, then instead of remaining on my motorbike to wait, I would get off and come to sit next to nanny. Half-jokingly, I once asked her the recipe to make this dish: “Grandmother, please teach me how to make this, so that when I come back to my hometown, I can tell my mom how to make it. In my hometown, we grow a lot of corn, but nobody knows how to make this dish”. Expecting nanny to keep her “traditional recipe” secret, I was quite surprised when she carefully told me each step of how to make her sticky rice with corn.

The corn used in this dish has to be the Vietnamese variety of sticky corn. The kernels should all be relatively the same size. After soaking in a solution of lime water (the lime made from seashell for betel nut chewing), the corn is to be boiled till the shells loosen. After boiling for 30 minutes, the corn is rinsed with cold water and rubbed together in order that the shells fall out completely. This way, when we eat, the texture will not be grainy and rough. Afterwards, it is washed and boiled once again, until the kernels somehow begin to swell into little “blossoming buds”. Then, sticky rice is added. When both the corn and rice are soft and evenly cooked, they will give off a distinctive aromatic smell. Then one can put off the fire.

To create the soft and smooth texture, Nanny soaks in water all the ingredients such as the corn kernels, sticky rice and green bean the night before. She said that just enough sticky rice should be added to increase the stickiness as well as the aroma of the dish. If too much sticky rice is added, the dish will become mushy and wet.

As to the green beans, Nanny would clean the shells and cook until soft. She reminded me that the green beans must be regularly good in size and quality. If the beans are not chosen well, they will turn out to be very hard and cannot be mashed into a paste. When the beans are mashed into a paste and formed into round balls, the finishing touches for the dish are almost complete.

The accompanying ingredient for this dish is peanut salt. Simply, peanuts are roasted, grinded coarsely and mixed with salt and sugar. Shallots are finely chopped and sauté in a pan with oil until golden brown and aromatic. The shallots would be spooned on top of the sticky rice with corn to give a delicious buttery taste. Grandmother noted that a little bit of shredded coconut can be mixed in and eaten with the food as customers might wish.

Though the dish is not too complicated, using just popular available local ingredients of the countryside, it is out of the question a harmonious combination of the elements to make a simple but tasty dish: evenly cooked white corn kernels, sticky rice, golden slices of mashed green beans, buttery peanuts, with the salt and the sweetness of just enough sugar…

Time keeps passing, and Hue has become a bustling place. However, the packets of sticky rice with corn just worth 5.000 vnd  just big enough to keep us full every morning and really help us to keep on with our study and work are still available there in the familiar neighborhoods and street corners of aunties and nannies. It is the simple dishes like sticky rice with corn that makes Hue’s cuisine evermore unique.

Story and photo: Thanh Thao