Instead of real carp, a facebooker offers carp-shape sticky rice for the ritual of Ông Công, ông Táo. — Photo captured from the seller's Facebook
By Minh Hương
HÀ NỘI — Nguyễn Thị Thúy Phượng, who sells carp, should be doing a roaring trade this time of year. Her store, however, is suffering a drought of customers.
The eve of the 23rd day of the last month of the lunar year (January 17) is traditionally when Vietnamese people buy carp for a send-off ceremony for ‘Ông Công Ông Táo’, or the Kitchen Gods. But Phượng has not seen many customers.
As one of the biggest fish shops in Yên Phụ Village – a popular destination for aquarium fish in Hà Nội – Phượng and about ten others start selling the carp a week before the Kitchen Gods ritual.
She tells Việt Nam News: “I used to sell about 200kg of carp a day. A few years ago, I was selling more than a tonne of carp, earning tens of millions of dong. These days, I have only sold a few dozen kilos.”
The Vietnamese believe there are three Kitchen Gods, and carp serve as their means of transport to heaven so they can report to the Jade Emperor. According to the tradition, after prayers to the Kitchen Gods have been made, people release carp into ponds, lakes and rivers. Before the ritual, each family buys the healthiest carp from shops like Phượng’s.
Traders at Yên Sở fish wholesale market in the south of the city were also experiencing a drop in trade, with prices also plummeting.
A trader told Việt Nam News: “A kilo of carp now goes for VNĐ50,000 -VNĐ60,000. Last year, a kilo would sometimes fetch VNĐ150,000.”
Explaining the decline, he says: “This year, I imported half as many fish compared to last year, but I think it was still too much.”
Some of the traders have lowered their prices to attract customers. One trader says: “This kind of fish is not for eating, so if we don’t sell them, we have no other choice than to release them and suffer the loss.”
Phượng said: “The economy is not so good, so people want to save their money and many of them stop buying.”
While another trader in Yên Sở thinks: "Perhaps because the press condemned the release of carp in plastic bags into lakes and rivers, many people have stopped using real carp and instead use fish made out of paper or food for the ritual."
Nguyễn Ngọc Lan on Đội Cấn Street moulds red sticky rice into the shape of a carp for the ritual. She says: “It is more economical and environmentally friendly with carp made from sticky rice. I used to pay about VNĐ30,000-VNĐ50,000 for three fish, and spend time releasing them into the lake.
“It is more convenient with the sticky rice carp. The Kitchen Gods can have the carp and sticky rice at the same time and I can save money and time.”
As an experienced trader with 35 years’ experience selling carp, Gia Huy, owner of a store in Ngô Thì Nhậm, thinks the drop in customers is due to technology, saying: “I used to import carp from Hải Phòng and Quảng Ninh, then export them to neighbouring provinces like Hưng Yên, Bắc Giang and Bắc Ninh. Now many suppliers connect via Facebook and Zalo, and trade directly with each other.” — VNS