An easy day trip from Can Tho, Sa Dec is a sleepy town in Dong Thap Province, best known as the setting for “The Lover”, a semi-autobiographical novel by Marguerite Duras. A film version was directed by Jean-Jaques Annaut of Duras’ adolescent affair with a Chinese man, with scenes from the movie actually filmed in the tiny town.
The river-port town features quaint markets, old mansions and merchant homes featuring colonial-era architecture, and flower gardens, making for a lovely off-the-tourist-trail destination.
Today, we’re visiting the Phuoc Hue Pagoda, an all-women’s Buddhist pagoda.
The pagoda itself is very pretty for its unusual pewter blue facade and intricate decorations.
Dragons are common in Buddhist iconography, but blue dragons, not so much…
The pagoda itself is not very big, flanked by two pillared corridors.
And the grounds are lovely, with trees, shrubs and flowers, all meticulously looked after.
We spend about 30 minute admiring the peaceful grounds where some religious activity takes place…
But we soon find ourselves directly across the small street, in a vegetarian restaurant. However, it’s actually what’s behind the restaurant that we’re interested in.
We find ourselves in a small factory of sorts, making vegetarian condiments like soy sauce and fermented tofu to both supplement the strictly vegetarian Buddhist diet and as a source of supplementary income for the pagoda. Huong, a mirthful Buddhist nun with a ready smile and lightning-fast commentary (all in Vietnamese, mind you) shows us around, first to where the soya beans are soaked.
Next, they’re cooked and transferred to large vats in the courtyard.
Salt is added to the mixture and allowed to ferment.
Local women from the community often come to help look after the vats.
A particularly cheeky little boy, the son of the one of the local women, helps by taking the lids off the vats on sunny days and covering them on wet days. Today, he’s thrilled to be the center of attention and gleefully makes a show out of his work.
The mixture is allowed to ferment for several months with the help of bacteria and yeasts, turning it into a thick, reddish-brown mash.
The raw soy sauce is separated from the solids by wringing it through fabric…
… and the resultant liquid is then refined and packaged as finished soy sauce.
This is very much a cottage industry. There are no fancy labels or glass jars. Just homemade goodness, carefully supervised by the nuns of the Phuoc Hue Pagoda.
The tiny factory also produces fermented tofu, a pungent paste molded into cubes and eaten with plain rice for a simple meal, or used as a base for soups and as a condiment.
The products are sold extremely cheaply (~USD 1-2 per jar) along with pickled vegetables and other vegetarian items.
The factory is free to wander around in, but please ask for permission from the cheery nuns. The vegetarian restaurant serves simple meals for about USD 1.50 per meal.
The Phuoc Hue Pagoda is located at 481 Tran Hung Dao, District 1, in Sa Dec, Dong Thap District and is an easy half-day trip from the Victoria Can Tho Resort.