After we cross Thot Not Bridge, turn left and go for approximately 6 kilometers, we arrive at Trung Thanh Commune. Here almost all local people can show us how to go to the commune producing fermented glutinous rice balls. Following the instructions of the local people, we go more than a kilometer to Ba Dang Rivulet, along which there are 80-90 households making Com Ruou. This area is in Thanh Phuoc Village and Thanh Phuoc 2 Village of the edge of Thot Not District (Can Tho City). Ms. Huynh Thi Diem, Vice-Chair woman of Trung Thanh Women's Association, says, "Here, two out of every three households earn their living by making Com Ruou.
No single elderly knows exactly when the trade of making Com Ruou began. They just know this trade has been passed through 4-5 generations.
Ms. Tran Thi Chin has earned a living by making Com Ruou for nearly a half-century in Ba Dang Rivulet. Her family has lived on this trade for four generations. It is the trade that "rolls glutinous rice into thumb-sized cubes thumb to be fermented and then become fermented glutinous rice balls.” Ms. Chin says," when I grew up, my parents taught me this trade. It requires more hard work than it seems to. Each day, you have to get up at 3-4 AM to make Com Ruou for sale in the following days because it takes 3 days for the glutinous rice balls to ferment. If you wake up early, you can have time to carry Com Ruou made in the previous day to sell.”
Ms. Chin is very professional in rolling glutinous balls – all in same size and same shape. Although she is 71 years old, she still looks healthy and quick. With a smile on her face, Ms. Chin comments, "I am healthy due to this dessert." According to her, this dish is both delicious and healthful. Since ancient time, Com Ruou acts as a kind of medicine beneficial to our spleen and digestion. “It is not a kind of food to fill your stomach. Nor is it a kind of drink that makes you drunk. Yet, as you eat it, you can enjoy its pure flavor and you may feel tipsy if you have much of it.”
At Ba Dang Rivulet, Ms Le Thi Duyen is the third generation, yet she has the experience of producing and trading Com Ruou for some decades. Ms. Duyen states, "Com Ruou is sold in Can Tho City and throughout other western provinces." Previously, she used to sell it in Long Xuyen (An Giang) and Hon Dat (Kien Giang). Each trip she carried some vessels (a vessel contains 3-4 kg of Com Ruou). To sell a vessel of Com Ruou, she had to walk past every corner of the village, nearly 30 kilometers. Far as she went, the profit for each vessel was just about 50,000 VND.
Ms. Duyen says that it is very simple to make Com Ruou. First, clean the glutinous rice with water. Soak it in 3 hours and then drain it. Next, pour water into the pot and steam the glutinous rice. The cooked glutinous rice will be rolled into balls and steamed until they are soft enough. Then wet your hand with salt water and roll the rice into either small or big balls. At this time, sprinkle ground yeast (which you can buy at small grocery shops) over the balls. Next, separate these balls by banana leaves and put them into plastic or bamboo baskets (namely Com Ruou vessels). Tightly cover the upper part of the baskets while there are holes in the bottom letting the slightly alcoholic milky, white liquid (or wine) run out for three nights. Save one part of extracted wine for mixing with the balls for sale. Every 4-5 kg of glutinous rice will produce 2 liters of extracted wine. The rest will be sold at the price of 10,000 VND/liter. This wine is used to make sponge cakes. It can also be used as a traditional treatment for stomachache or a nutritious food for women after delivering births to babies. Ms. Duyen says, "It sounds so easy, but pouring water in the baskets requires sophistication and experience, otherwise, glutinous rice may turn sour or dry. Each person has his or her own experience and skills in pouring water into the vessels."
Ms. Duyen happily shows us the secret to have a vessel of good Com Ruou. Glutinous rice and yeast are two crucial ingredients. Glutinous rice must be soft and identical without any single rice of other kinds. Yeast must be the best sweet product from Long Xuyen Town, Chau Doc Town (An Giang Province). Yeast must be thoroughly ground into fine powder and mixed with glutinous rice balls before putting them into the baskets for fermentation. Typically, in the dry season, 6 sweet wine yeast balls (approximately 30g) and 1 bitter one (approximately 5g) are required for 3 kg of glutinous rice. In the rainy season, it is necessary to add 3 more sweet wine yeast balls (about 15g).
Ms. Duyen adds, "It takes you at least 3 days to make a vessel of yummy Com Ruou and you have to follow many steps. There are indispensible techniques for you to keep in mind. Salt water made from unrefined salt is essential for you to wet your hands while rolling glutinous rice into balls. This solution prevents rice from sticking on your hands. Also it helps the glutinous rice become tender and moist. Banana leaves also help make Com Ruou more delicious if appropriately used. In Ms. Duyen’s opinion, only the leaves from seeded and Xiem banana trees are relevant for delicious Com Ruou while Sap banana leaves are not. Delicious Com Ruou balls are milky white. They are not loosely combined. The liquid is not yellowish or dense. Its tastes should be neither too sweet nor bitter. While Com Ruou is processed, you should keep it away from people who smoke cigarettes, apply medicated oil or chew betel and areca. Anyone that eats Com Ruou permeated such smells will probably vomit.
Ms. Huynh Thi Diem, Vice-Chair Person of Trung Thanh Women's Association states, "Many women in this village have been selling Com Ruou since they were 15. When they are married and have children, they consider this trade as a kind of intangible dowry to pass to their descendants. Thanks to this, the trade has been preserved up to now."
Source: Can Tho Newspaper - Translated by Ngoc Diep CTU