Che: The ideal summer snack

VietNamNet Bridge – Vietnam has many different kinds of che – sweet soup, which vary to suit the climate of each season. In the hot summers, a cup of suong sa hat luu – a sweet gruel made of fresh water chesnuts mixed with several other ingredients – helps one to cool down when eating it.



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Nutritious: The ingredients used to make suong sa hat luu sweet gruel. Photos courtesy of Quan An Ngon Restaurants in Hanoi


I have eaten such soup in Sai Gon and Da Nang, but the most enjoyable one I’ve had was in the Quan An Ngon Restaurant chain in Hanoi.

To me it’s the best because of its crispy fresh water chestnuts, buttery green beans, crispy seaweed agar and fragrant coconut extract.

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Go pink: Fresh water chestnuts cut into shapes and dyed pink, locally known as hat luu.


Le Kim Chi, an employee of Quan An Ngon Restaurant in Hanoi, said the name of the pudding is exquisite, but its origins are from street vendors around the city, who sell the delicious desserts at an affordable price.

“It is a popular dish, and a specialty of Vietnam,” she said, noting that the soup brings special memories to Vietnamese people when they eat it.

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Sweet tooth: A bowl of mixed green beans, sugar and vanilla helps to make che more enjoyable.


Making it requires a lot of time and meticulous work. Ingredients for a four person serving include 30 fresh water chestnuts, cut into pieces and dyed pink, red or green, which are then covered with water chestnut powder, and boiled before being put into icey water.

Chi said other requirements include soaking seaweed in water, before boiling it and stirring it until it becomes agar.

Other ingredients include green beans and pandan leaves which are narrow, long and pointed at the tip. When attached to their stems, they resemble giant green feather dusters. The soup also makes use of white sugar and coconut juice, Chi said.

The pandan must be grinded well, kneaded and filtered to get the extract from them. They’re then mixed with water chestnut powder (100g), vanilla, and sugar (five spoonfuls) and one litre of water. The mix is boiled until the ingredients are cooked, at which point a squeezer is used to press them into threads (similar to rice vermicelli) which are put into a pot of icy water. People call these threads suong sa.

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Healthy: Fresh water chestnuts, the main ingredient of che suong sa hat luu.


The green beans should be soaked in water for two hours and flayed before boiling. They should then be left to cool in the refrigerator, said Chi.

Each cup should include dyed water chesnuts, seaweed agars, green beans and coconut juice. “It is much more enjoyable when you add ice and banana oil,” she said.

Nguyen Thi Dao, 68, Viet kieu from Canada, recalled: “Since I was a little girl I have been interested in this kind of che. I used to buy it from a shop near our home in Hanoi. I told my mother to buy some for us every day in the summer. I loved all the colours.

“Che suong sa hat luu can be eaten over and over because it is so delicious, cool, and is not too sweet like black bean porridge,” said Dao.

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Refreshing: A tasty and cool cup of Vietnamese dessert.


She noted that she often asked her relatives in Vietnam to send her the fresh water chestnuts (the main ingredient of the gruel) to make suong sa hat luu at home in Canada.

“Each time I cook it, I invite all my nieces and nephews. They enjoy the food so much. My grandchildren also like the che, and they like saying its name, which they think sounds luxurious.”

Herbalist Tran Van Vinh from the National Hospital of Traditional Medicines said the water chestnuts can be used as an effective herbal medicine to treat constipation, high cholesterol, improve the immune system and assist those suffering from insomnia.

“People in rural areas often use water chestnuts to treat fevers and colds for their children. It is popular all over the country,” said Vinh.

“Nowadays, the trend of eating frugal food is growing, and sương sa hạt lựu sweet gruel is a favourite due to its healing effects of the body,” he noted. 

Ha Nguyen

VNS

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