Each locality in Vietnam has its own specialty that it is proud of. Visitors to Thai Binh province are always invited to eat Cay cake, which is made of glutinous rice well blended with fat and ginger.
Nguyen or Nguyen Xa village, in Dong Hung district, Thai Binh province is famous for water puppetry and “Cay” cake. Legend has it that in the old days, “Cay” cake was made by Nguyen Thi Tan, a daughter of the Nguyen Cong clan, and served only during the lunar New Year. Lady Tan was born in 1724 and was ordained as a mandarin in 1739. She created a new cake with five spices to offer to the King who later named the cake “cay” because it is the color of a fiddler crab’s egg.
Since then, the Nguyen villagers have made “cay” cake to offer to the King during Tet. The craft of making “cay” cake has been handed down through generations in Nguyen village.
According to Nguyen Van Manh, a “cay” cake maker in Nguyen village, many steps are involved in making the cake but preparing the ingredients is the most important step. Manh says the first step is to mix rice, baby jackfruit, gardenia fruit, peanut, sesame, ginger, dried melon, pork fat, and sugarcane together and then slice to make “fiddler crab” paste.
He says packing “fiddler crab” paste into a nylon bag for 6 months before using it to make cake will make the cake more delicious. The paste is fried in pork fat until it rises and becomes slightly soft.
“To make a delicious cake, we need to select the best glutinous rice. We then fry the rice. The cooking and the mixing techniques are very important. While making cake, we need to pay attention to the fire to prevent the cake from getting too wet and crushed. We need to mix the “fiddler crab” paste into the boiling sugar at the right time to get the right taste”, Manh said.
After cooking, all the ingredients are pressed in a mould and cut into pieces. The techniques sound simple but not everyone can make “Cay” cake. Every family has its own secret recipe.
Nguyen Huu Chinh, a Cay cake maker in Nguyen Xa village said “My family has been making “Cay” cake for more than 50 years. The craft of making “cay” cake has been in our village for more than 100 years. The cake has become popular with tourists. We now make “cay” cake all year long, not just during Tet”.
In Nguyen Xa village, hundreds of households make “cay” cake. Each has a slightly different flavor. “Cay” cake makers face a lot of competition, but the villagers are not discouraged.
Mr. Chinh said “Sometimes, our trade is very difficult. Sometimes, we may start to feel discouraged but then we remember that it’s our traditional craft handed down by our ancestors and we have to maintain it. Many people are invested in promoting our traditional cake. “Cay” cake has found a foothold in the market. I will never give up this trade which has brought us a living.”