Jars of tương being dried in the sun
"I don't know when the first jar of tương (soya sauce) was made but our family has been producing the sauce for five generations," says an old woman in Duong Lam, a village in Hanoi's Son Tay District famous for its tương recipe as well as its old houses.
Lured by these temptations, we travel the 45 kilometers from the center of Hanoi to Duong Lam for a look-see and taste.
I've tried and loved the tương made in Cu Da, another village outside Hanoi, and that from Ban Town in Hung Yen Province, and there's no doubt that the sauce from this homeland of five kings stacks up well against the stiff competition.
The owner of a two-hundred-old house where we stop for a lunch of fish and rice, with tương on the table of course, tells us that the secret of Duong Lam's sauce lies in its careful preparation.
First of all, the soybeans must be of the highest quality.
Just as important is the other main ingredient, sticky rice, which is soaked for a few hours and then steamed before being placed in a broad basket, covered with longan leaves and left until it gets moldy, which takes about three to four days.
While the rice is going off, the soybeans are roasted then soaked in a jar of salty water for seven days and nights in a cool place.
Once the beans are ready, the moldy rice is put in the soybean jar and the contents mashed before leaving the jar in the sun for two to six months.
The sun is a very important factor in determining the quality of the sauce, which is why a fresh jar is usually prepared between March and August, when the sky is clearest.
The sauce is ready to use once it turns dark brown and develops a sweet smell and taste. If prepared carefully, a batch of tương keeps for two to three years.
Tương has been a staple condiment for Vietnamese people for centuries. However, with so many other kinds of sauce produced nowadays, tương is gradually losing its well established place on the dinner table.
Still, there are some special dishes such as braised fish or tofu that the likes of mayonnaise and chili sauce just can't complement as well as good old fashioned soya sauce.
And, since it is made of soybeans and rice, it is very rich in protein and good for our health.
For Vietnamese people, tương is a traditional specialty that is often associated with a poor but peaceful life in their homeland.
This explains why tương can now be found in the United States, Australia, France and elsewhere.
In any country where Vietnamese people live, you will be sure to find a bottle of tương.