Unique Thi Cam rice cooking contest

On the 8th day of the first lunar month every year, locals in Thi Cam village (Xuan Phuong ward, Hanoi’s Nam Tu Liem district) join together at the village’s communal house to celebrate their traditional rice cooking contest. The custom has existed for a long time each new spring, to pray for a prosperous, happy and peaceful Lunar New Year.

With the throbbing drum, four teams (corresponding to the four “giap” - an ancient administrative unit in the village) participate in the rice cooking contest with the enthusiastic cheers of local people and visitors. 

Legend has it that in the reign of the 18th Hung King, General Phan Tay Nhac was assigned to fight the enemies. When his troops went to Huong Canh village (Thi Cam village today), he ordered to organise a cooking contest to select a few capable locals to work in logistics to serve the army. After his victory over foreign invaders, General Phan Tay Nhac returned to this land and instructed the local people on farming and weaving and modified customs. After his death, he was worshiped as "Thanh hoang" - a deity enshrined in the village's communal house as a guardian to the village. To express their gratitude to the general, Thi Cam villagers open the rice cooking contest on the 8th day of the first lunar month every year.

At 11 o'clock, the fire-making test takes place right in front of the main door of the communal house. After just a few dozen seconds, friction heats the bamboo stick to create fire and burn the straw bundle. The team members try to blow on the straw to make the fire bigger. When the first fire sparks, the atmosphere in the yard becomes even more bustling.

Each team was given 1kg of paddy to cook rice in the competition. The young men brought rice to the mortar. The grind must be very fast and extremely skillful so that the rice grain does not break.

After that, the rice will be screened to eliminate rice husks and grit, before being washed in water.

Rice will then be put into a boiling pot. A delicious, well-cooked rice depends heavily on cooking skills and reasonable adjustment of the flame.

The contest takes place in an urgent manner, as the teams only had about 30 minutes from the time the fire was made until the rice was cooked.

The space of Thi Cam communal house echoes with drums, creating a bustling atmosphere.

The yard covered by smoke and fire. The boiling rice cookers are often incubated in straw ash for about 20 minutes for better results. When the pot was running out of water, the teams buried it into the burning straw waited for the rice to be fully cooked.

After burning a stick of incense, members of the jury will search for the rice cookers in lots of straw ash. If they are covered well, the cooking time will be extended and the rice will be cooked well. If not, the judges will find the cookers quickly and the rice may not be cooked well.

After finding all the four rice cookers, the jury make four rice bowls as an offering to the village's tutelary god.

The rice is then brought out to the outside of the communal house to mark publicly before the local people and members of the participating teams.

The members of the jury assess the rice with their eyes and try to press a few rice grains on their hands. The winning rice cooker features the most white, flexible and delicious rice. Immediately after announcing the winning team, members of the teams and local people quickly pick up a handful of rice to get fortune for the Lunar New Year. They believe that adults who eat such rice will have the whole year full of luck, and children who eat such rice also grow quickly.

Nhan Dan

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