Chu rice noodle is one of the most well-known food specialty of Bac Giang province. The chewy, well-seasoned noodles can certainly satisfy even the toughest food critics.
The arresting sight of numerous white rice noodle sheets being sundried on wooden panels greets those arriving in Thu Duong, a small village of Luc Ngan district, Bac Giang province. Learning its history makes the place even more interesting.
This rice noodle gets its name from the Chu Market, where a man called Ca Tong began selling them all those years ago. A native of neighboring Hai Duong Province, Ca Tong was brought to Bac Giang by a Chinese man who’d adopted him when he was very small. It was his foster father who taught Ca Tong the basic steps of making rice noodles, said 38-year-old Tran Duc Phuoc, Tong’s great grandson. Because it had a distinct taste and was only sold in that market, people began calling it My Chu, a name that has stuck to this day.
Another thing that the villages have stuck to is the old way of making rice noodles, with almost all steps done by hand.
The first step is to wash and remove all the dirt from the rice. It is then softened by soaking in water for up to three hours and later transferred to a grinder after adding fresh water.
Chu noodles are made purely with rice, a bit of water and oil, so choosing the right rice variety is very important. In the old days, they used the “bao thai hong” variety, which was grown in the Chu hill area. This variety of rice was very famous for its unique aroma, texture and stickiness, and perfectly suited to making good noodles. Nowadays, as production of bao thai hong rice declines and the number of households making the rice noodles increase, it has become difficult to use the original rice. The villages now use the “203” variety that can be found locally or in the provinces of Thai Binh and Nam Dinh.
Besides rice, the water used is an important factor that decides the quality of My Chu. After removing the water from the rice flour mixture, the flour has to be spread out with meticulous care to avoid any lumps.
In the past, a ladle was used to spread the flour on a cloth stretched over boiling water, but this step has been taken over by a machine that creates the rice noodle sheets. Flat rice sheets are then spread out on mats to dry in the sun until they are totally dry and transparent. To make it easier to cut the noodle sheets into smaller strips, the rice sheets are softened with a bit of warm water and oil. Once the noodles are cut, they are dried in the sun again before being packed. Since it can be used for many different dishes, the strips are of various sizes.