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Hanoi has a popular gift of sweet and fragrant sesame rice balls – a childhood memory of me and many Hanoians. For many people, home-made rice balls are even better than today’s famous sesame salt and sesame rice balls, sometimes it’s the unique flavor of the old town people.

Beautiful childhood with rice balls with salt and sesame

In the morning, on the streets of Hanoi, there are women and peddlers selling all kinds of popular and traditional cakes – including rice balls with sesame salt.

The small rice ball is as small as the palm of your hand, but white and smooth, with a beautiful packet of sesame salt, or accompanying shrimp, the price is only fifty-five thousand silver. More sausages add a small circle of ham – so it becomes a lunch for elegant women. Those rice balls come from Lac Dao village (Van Giang district, Hung Yen) – famous for making famous wholesale rice balls in Hanoi and surrounding areas.

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After the rice ball is finished, put it in a thin basket to “go a little”. Illustration.

But many Hanoi families make good and delicious rice balls – like my grandmother. My grandmother is a daughter of the last name Dang, has bright black eyes, a thin figure but quick steps, a cheerful disposition.

My grandmother has lived with my family since my mother got married, because she had only my mother, and my grandfather passed away early. Grandma has a few dishes that my whole family loves – they are fried shrimp, braised fish, and first of all, rice balls with salt and sesame.

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During the subsidy period, when the family had new rice sent from the countryside as a gift, or my mother exchanged 3 pounds of commercial rice to “eat” 2 pounds, the grandmother would wake up earlier than usual, blow up the new rice cooker. to demonstrate the ultimate elaborate rice ball dish. She said that commercial rice is both moldy and dry, so “what’s the use of holding rice?”

Wanting to hold the rice very well, she washed the rice, picked it up with all the grain, washed it clean, and then drained it. She blew rice in a heavy cast aluminum pot. She taught that, when blowing rice to hold, give more water than when blowing rice to eat normally. Rice is usually blown smoothly, meaning that the rice grains are soft, but still each grain. The rice to grasp must be flexible – that is, the rice grains are cooked and each grain is still sticky. But definitely the rice grain must not be mushy – that’s why it’s difficult.

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The rice to grasp must be blown pliable, the rice grains that have been scooped out are ripe and sticky to grasp. Illustration.

While closing the oven door, lowering the stove heat, waiting for the rice to cook, leaving only red sawdust coals at the bottom of the pot. Grandma washed it thoroughly and squeezed out a white cotton towel (the fabric woven on an antique hand-loom looms). used to sew bibs – size 40×40 cm) – which is now almost lost.

She spread a towel on a bright white aluminum tray, used chopsticks to stir up new rice – seeing that the rice grains squeezed in her hand were ripe, sticky with her fingers, she quickly scooped up about 2 bowls of rice, pouring it straight on the towel, Then, with both hands, grasping the four corners of the towel, squeezing and pressing, rotating, and grasping rice quickly and quickly.

The aluminum tray rattled and clicked continuously under the weight of her mature and agile hands. About ten minutes later, she loosened her grip to make the rice ball round like a big cake at a village festival, then put it in a bamboo basket to “go a little bit”, waiting for her children to wake up, then cut each child a few pieces, dip them in salt. breakfast sesame.

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Piece of rice in your mouth, how sweet is the smell of new rice. A slice of white rice is as seamless as a piece of cake. Dotted with a little bit of salty and fragrant sesame salt – my sisters ate the elastic, causing my grandmother to remind me to “eat slowly and choke”.

And I used that as an excuse to “bring to school to eat on time”, but actually let her pack 1-2 extra pieces of rice in an old newspaper and bring it to class to show off to her little friends. Sometimes they put all the rice sticky rice and pate bread to smother a few slices of my rice balls with sesame salt until the school drum rang, the group quickly wiped their hands on the lapels of their clothes, their mouths still covered with sesame salt dust and rushed in. line up for class.

My grandmother told me that when I was in the countryside, I always brought rice balls and bags of sesame salt to eat with sugar – because in the past, there were no crowded shops like now. The rice balls are wrapped in a thin, fragrant, and flexible mocokilla that won’t spoil for a few days. When eating, just peel off the outer layer of dried rice, then break it into pieces and dip it in sesame salt, take a sip of rain water and ask for it at any house along the way, it will cool your intestines and heal your stomach.

Seeing that my grandmother grasped rice well, my sisters and I really wanted to learn, but it was very difficult. Because the freshly shoveled rice comes out of the pot, it’s hot, the young hands are burning, red – not to mention the constant rubbing and kneading. My grandmother showed me a way for my sisters and me to hold each small handful of rice, about a bowl of rice to hold it into small balls like a small thick cake. With only 1 handful for myself, my sisters and I quickly jumped to show off everywhere.

Granny’s roasted sesame salt is also very feat. The peanuts chosen are the dark red shelled peanuts, the seeds are small and pretty, grown for six months, and are fragrant and fat. But the big pink peanuts are peanuts grown for three months, taste pale and less fragrant, less crispy.

She roasted peanuts first in dry sand, low fire, ripe peanuts from the outside to the inside. Then, she sieved peanuts from the sand, incubated peanuts in folded newspapers to make them crispy.

Then she roasted the salt thoroughly, the grains of salt seemed to jump up in the hot pan, from clear to opaque. She said, if roasted salt lies, sesame salt will be easily stale, less crispy, difficult to keep for a long time.

Finally, she roasted sesame seeds on low fire. As long as you hear the roasted sesame crackling, the aroma will evaporate.

Sesame and salt are pounded first. Then she turned around and crumpled up a handful of newspaper to remove the shell. Then she poured the peanuts into a bamboo tray, stripped all the shells, and pounded them. She taught that pounding peanuts must be lightly pounded, while pounding, pay attention to tilting the pestle, shaking the mortar to break the peanut evenly without sticking. If the peanuts are sticky, the oil will quickly flow, making the sesame salt quickly smelly.

My sister and I sitting next to her just wanted her to pound the peanuts quickly, don’t crush them too much, so that later they can shake the jar of sesame salt to get a few big pieces of peanuts to eat first. The smell of peanuts and sesame is really fragrant – but roasted peanuts without sesame around, it is less delicious and poetic. My sisters and I urged her to mix sesame salt quickly to fight for cold rice to dredge up the mortar, spoiled for choice.

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Rice balls with sesame salt are very delicious and easy to eat. Illustration.

Happy memories with rice balls with sesame salt

When my youngest daughter just entered junior high school, the school organized a camping trip for students in the suburbs. It is common for families to prepare their own lunches for their children. I asked him what he would like to bring, and he immediately replied that he wanted to bring rice balls with salt and sesame seeds.

At the end of the picnic, before returning from the picnic, before taking off her backpack, the daughter shouted loudly that she had to eat bread today, and then gloatingly said that her friends competed to eat all the rice balls with salt and sesame. There was a mother who also bought rice balls but refused to eat them and only ate her children’s rice balls, why did she do so little? And my daughter is also very fragrant and said, “Next time I go, I will say that my mother holds a lot of rice”.

Talking about the daughter’s eyes, she reflected a very innocent and innocent pride in her mother’s life with a simple and simple rice ball dipped in sesame salt.

At the end of 2000, I and a group of friends went on a self-sufficient trip to 4 European countries for more than 20 days. To save money, we bring all kinds of dry food. The capital Rome (Italy) is the final point of the trip. After descending from the top of the bell tower of the magnificent St. Peter’s church down hundreds of spiral stairs, the whole crowd of hungry eyes and trembling told each other to find a hiding place behind the giant stone pillar on Vatican Square and then divide each other. A handful of rice is still warm.

It can be called the most impressive rice ball meal of my life. The jasmine-branded Thai Thai rice bought at the supermarket and cooked in a borrowed rice cooker produces soft, long-grain rice with a sweet aroma. Opening the bags of sesame salted rice balls, the smell of new rice mixed with the fragrant aroma of sesame salt spread, following the cold wind to the tall Italian policeman who was on duty about ten meters away. The guy turned around and walked over to the stone column we were sitting on, then smiled and asked to ask.

The four of them competed to invite the policeman to have rice balls with sesame salt. At that time, free tourists, including European and American tourists, ate a lot of food and drinks, but the smell of pate, sausage, fried chicken… Westerners must have been used to him, but the smell of rice balls with salt and sesame was thick. Vietnam is so strange. The guy nodded to show that he understood the origin of the strange taste, then waved his hand around the baton, clapping his heels for the group of tourists to eat and drink naturally.

Later, I had many opportunities to return to European countries, still self-sufficient in Vietnamese rice. Sometimes I’m excited to go to the restaurant to order a plate of spaghetti, or a seafood pizza… but nothing can compare to the delicious feeling of a meal of sesame salt and sesame rice balls on Vatican Square in the winter of the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries.

During the celebration of the establishment of Hanoi Radio and Television Station, I was assigned to organize a buffet full of ethnic dishes. Most of the dishes I order are at famous traditional restaurants in the city and famous culinary villages. For example, roasted field crab with guise leaves at the suburban restaurant, white sticky rice at Anh Tuyet restaurant, Thanh Tri roll cake, Khuong Thuong snail vermicelli, Quan Ganh day cake … and there are rice balls with sesame salt.

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Village rice balls are not as delicious as home-made rice balls. Photo: Vu Thi Tuyet Nhung.

I chose to order rice balls with salt and sesame at Phung Thanh Pagoda – an ancient temple abbot by monk Thich Dam Anh. The famous monk cooks the best vegetarian dish in Hanoi for a long time. So the nuns in the temple once again stayed up late to get up early to serve the Dai family.

The buffet of ethnic dishes was a great success, leaving a beautiful impression in the hearts of Taiwanese diners who are very connoisseurs of food. As for the rice balls at Phung Thanh Pagoda, someone who tasted it asked for a portion to take home for their elderly parents, because they had never met such a sweet, delicious, and delicious rice ball.

Explain why homemade rice balls are better than craft village rice balls?

Lac Dao rice balls carry all the same goods, the rice balls are very beautiful, white and smooth, the rice grains seem to have melted into each other but still have their slender shape, like pearls arranged neatly together. skillful… like grasping by machine. However, when entering the mouth, the piece of rice is soft but not pliable, very pale, but does not have the aroma of new rice. Sesame salt is finely pounded but often stinks. Roasted cotton rolls have long fibers but are often stiff. Crispy spring rolls are fragrant but sweet with the taste of main noodles.

The technique of holding rice, pounding sesame, and wrapping sausages of the Lac Dao people is very respectable, the form of the rice ball is very good, but the content of the product quality is not up to the mark.

Especially the rice that is too well milled from short-term transplanted rice, large grain, high yield. When washing the rice to blow the rice balls, they wash it too carefully, in order to get the beautiful white color, but lose a lot of micronutrients drifting along the rice water tanks… very wasteful.

The market is now full of delicious rice varieties. First place is Seng Cu Muong Khuong, Nang fragrant rice at Dao market. Supermarkets are full of Thai rice, Japanese rice, Korean rice, Cambodian rice… The varieties of rice that blow rice to hold are quite delicious.

Soc Trang rice ST24, ST25 were awarded the title of the best rice in the world, when blowing the rice balls, they were delicious.

But I still remember the taste of the old Tam Xoan rice of the Red River Delta more than half a century ago – the rice that I consider the best in the world in my childhood memories.

Today, the new Eight generations of rice are incomparably degraded in a short time, so why are rice balls as delicious as the rice balls of old grandmothers.

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