Canna Starch and Rice Noodle Villages
From September to April, Dương Liễu Commune in Hoài Đức District, the suburbs of Hà Nội, 30 km southwest of the Capital, is the cassava and canna root capital of the region, and when the harvest season is over, sugar cane, sugar-apples and other products destined to feed the citizens of Hà Nội and the numerous communes of the Delta, abound in the markets here. Like neighbouring Cát Quế, the commune of Dương Liễu is home to a number of cassava starch producers. In addition, Dương Liễu is a busy canna-processing centre.
There are two types of canna: one an ornamental plant (canna indica) with broad, often vividly coloured leaves, the other an edible species (canna edulis), cultivated in Việt Nam for its rhizomes. In Vietnamese, edible canna known as dong riềng, chuối củ, khoai riềng, or khoai đao.
Canna is a perennial plant originally from Latin America. It may grow to a height of 2.5 metres and its broad green leaves are characterised by their protruding veins. Found throughout the tropical and subtropical regions, it is alleged to withstand typhoons. Canna is easy to grow. It has no significant pests or diseases. The crop thrives on residual nutrients and can be grown continuously. Typically yielding 20-40 t per ha, canna is often grown without irrigation on marginal soils or on slopes where its long crop duration (10-12 months) helps prevent erosion.
Edible canna is an easy-to-cultivate crop and high yield. It is mostly cropped in Bắc Kạn province of Việt Nam. It is located in the Northeast region close to the Chinese border. Forest area dominates more than 95% of the province. The remainder is available for agricultural and other uses.
The growing areas in this province were estimated to be 1.040 ha with production over 71.000 tons, edible canna starch noodle production over 20.000 tons. 1 kg of edible canna starch noodle traded from 3 US$ (normal quality) to 5 US$ (best quality). Although edible canna is considered as an agriculture food crop to reduce poverty and ensure food security, it also is facing many difficulties and challenges, especially the management of product quality and branding. So far, there is no ‘quality-label’ to safeguard authentic, locally produced miến, which is highly prized by consumers for its specific identity and the local expertise behind it.
The processing of edible canna involves grinding the rhizomes to extract the starch, it is the source of canna starch which is used as arrowroot. The arrowroot is obtained by rasping the root to a pulp, then washing and straining to get rid of the fibres. This starch is very digestible. The very young tubers can also be eaten cooked, they are sweet but fibrous. The root can be very large, sometimes as long as a person’s forearm. Wet canna starch is produced locally or imported from China and used in the making of glass noodles, which are eaten especially around the Tết holiday.
Two types of producer groups handle the conversion of canna rhizomes into glass noodles: the first group is the starch makers who purchase rhizomes at the Dương Liễu market and set about processing up to 15 tonnes of rhizomes per day for three or four months of the year (December to March). They then either sell or store the wet starch product locally that will then be made into glass noodles all year round by the second group. However, the weather and access to drying space have a major impact on the success of glass noodles production.
Once manufactured, the still-wet glass noodles are laid out on bamboo racks which will then be fetched out to dry each day wherever space can be found around the commune, including in some less obvious places (roofs, courtyards, alleys, dykes, rice paddies, the lake, etc.). After packing and labelling, the glass noodles (miến) are loaded onto the backs of motorbikes and taken by the middlemen to the big markets in Hà Nội, or onwards for export.
Miến dong riềng can be used for many dishes, such as miến gà (chicken glass noodles), miến cua (crab glass noodles), miến ngan (goose glass noodles), miến lươn (eel glass noodles) and many others, noting that the Tay ethnic group often fried mien with wood-ear fungus and mixed it with boiled chicken pieces, onion, lemon and mint. It can also be used to make nem rán (fried spring rolls).
Rice vermicelli, canna glass noodle and rice noodle village Minh Khai in Hưng Yên Province are situated to the north of Dương Liễu. While it is hard to distinguish between these three communes, so densely packed are the traders and their many customers here in the heart of the village cluster, the fact is that Minh Khai is a less populous village than Cát Quế or Dương Liễu. Almost 50% of Minh Khai households are involved in food processing, namely the production and washing-refining of tapioca starch; the transformation of kudzu (also called Japanese arrowroot) into starch (bột sắn dây); and the manufacture of canna glass noodles. However, most households here use rice as the raw material for fresh or dried vermicelli (bún) or rice cracker, phở noodles (bánh đa and phở khô).
For rice starch production, the rice grains need to be soaked, ground and then settled and filtered in vats flanked by little channels for collecting the liquid starch. Different households then reprocess the starch, cooking and shaping it in special ways to produce rice vermicelli or rice noodles. The finished product is dried in the sun in the same way as canna glass noodles.
Noodles might be used fresh at local markets for the preparation of Vietnamese phở. There are facilities locally for processing other rice-based products (edible rice paper, cakes, etc.). Many of these are sold throughout Việt Nam or packed for export.
In our next article, we will be sharing with you two recipes namely, “Simple Miến Xào Cua Fried glass noodles with crab meat”, and “Simple Phở Xào (fried rice noodles with beef)”. Stay tuned!