It seems as if the whole of Vietnam is gearing up for the Mid-Autumn Festival, this year falling on September 27, 2015. Pop-up shops selling moon cakes can be seen along every busy street and children are starting to collect bamboo to make frames for their paper lanterns.
The festival has its roots in celebrating the end of the rice harvest, so it should come as no surprise that traditional Mid-Autumn Festival (in Vietnamese: T?t Trung Thu) foods are simple and earthy, highlighting the bounty of the land.
Off the many waterways surrounding the city of Can Tho in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, we’re in search of a family who makes c?m, or flattened rice, often offered to worship the ancestors in the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Jumping off our boat, we walk down some dirt paths, being led by a little neighbor girl, and finally stumble upon a scene of an ethnic Khmer family working together to produce these flat, light, dry flakes that will be made into cakes, or eaten with bananas and coconut milk, a favorite local dessert.
The process to make flattened rice is labor-intensive. First, the glutinous rice is soaked overnight.
The immature rice kernels are then roasted over very low heat…
… which serves to dry the kernels out and infuse them with an appealing smoky flavor.
Then, using a large mortar and pestle, the rice is pounded flat. The husband and wife team keep a rhythm going, both pounding and moving the rice kernels around so that they’re evenly flattened.
Then comes the process of separating the grains from the chaff.
And a final picking out of little broken bits.
What’s left are beautifully flattened, even flakes of rice. In some parts of Vietnam, these are dyed green using pandan leaves.
Vietnam’s Mid-Autumn Festival is all about sharing in the harvest, which is why flattened rice cakes and moon cakes are often given as gifts to friends and family, a gift of thanksgiving for the bounty of the harvest.