Getting all ‘corny’ about noodles

Thanh Nien News. Original Vietnamese story by SGTT

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A rare specialty from central Vietnam is worth checking out if you visit Phu Yen, but if you can’t, you can order some online

Bun bap (corn noodles) is served with snails and broth / PHOTO COURTESY OF BUNBAPVIET’S FACEBOOK PAGE
An Dan Commune in the central province of Phu Yen boasts three national heritages: the relics of An Tho Citadel built in 1836, the Tu Quang Pagoda built in 1797, and 20 mango trees which were planted within the pagoda’s premises some 200 years ago.
Besides the heritages, the commune, located in Tuy An District, has another treasure: bun bap (corn noodles), a specialty that cannot be found anywhere else and is almost unknown to outsiders.
The tragedy is that this food is dying out in its birthplace. 74-year-old Chin It, believed to be the last bun bap maker, recently retired after spending more than 50 years producing the noodles.
When visiting Tuy Hoa Town the other day, we asked some local people where we could buy corn noodles, but none of them could tell us.
So, we headed to An Dan and repeated the same question, but did not find the answer until we met a retired officer who had to make phone calls and ask around.
In the end, we were directed to residence of Vo Tan Quan, a 30-year-old resident in Chi Thanh Town, which is some 30 kilometers to the north of Tuy Hoa.
Quan is a disciple of Chin It, and is now perhaps the sole maker of the noodles, known for its natural sweetness and chewiness.
Quan said he had “extremely” fallen in love with bun bap when he was nine or ten years old, so when he grew up, he spent VND70 million (US$3,300) building a workshop and buying some machines to partly mechanize the production.
He then invited Chin It to come to his house and stay there for a whole month, teaching him how to make the noodles.
When checking Quan’s product, the master said its quality “was as good as 95 percent of hers,” he said.
However, despite Quan’s passion, the demand for the specialty dish is low.
Due to time-consuming and complex production, each kilogram of bun bap is now priced at VND30,000, much higher than other kinds of noodles, thus making it something of a luxury for people in the province.
Explaining the process, Quan said he first mixes dried corn grains with rice husks, and then grinds them coarsely with a motorized mortar.
He does not grind them into fine powder just yet because the noodles would not be tasty then, he said.
After removing bran and the hard part of corns, he soaks the ground mixture in water for 15 minutes (during the year end), or 30 minutes (in the summer).
The mixture is then let to sit for 24 hours.
He sprays water on the mixture and leaves it to sit for another three days before soaking it in water for another day to get rid of its strong smell.
Next, Quan uses the motorized mortar to stir the mixture and puts it into a sack and compresses it to form a big lump.
Then he cuts the lump into smaller pieces and cooks them in boiling water for some 15 minutes, before grinding them into a fine powder with a machine.
This powder is then kneaded with warm water to make dough, which is cut into stripes that are put into a pot of boiling water right away. As soon as they float, the noodles are done and ready for consumption.
Quan said locals traditionally eat bun bap on the first and the 15th days of the lunar month.
But, he only produces the noodles on order for the 15th day, and just around 35 kilograms for the first day of the lunar month.
As local demand is low, Quan has opened a website, hoping to introduce his homeland’s specialty to other regions in the country. The noodles are vacuum packed and can be sent anywhere, he said.
So, even if you do not have chance to visit Phu Yen, you can check out bun bap by placing an order with Quan.
Although it is said that bun bap is best eaten with broth cooked with fish caught from O Loan Lagoon in Tuy An, the noodles are still tasty when eaten in similar ways as other kinds of noodles in the country. So you can have a bun bap chicken or pork soup, or stir fry it with seafood and/or vegetables.
The noodles taste good even when you eat it with nothing but fish sauce and raw vegetables.

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