Nguyễn Thanh Hà
HÀ NỘI — Hà Nội is not only famous for its traditional dishes such as phở and bún chả but also bánh oản, a cake made of roasted glutinous rice flour.
Kicker: Oản cakes could not be lacked on the alters of Vietnamese, pagodas and tempers. — Photo kinhtedothi.vn
The oản cake reflects the Vietnamese spirit, personality and soul that always places importance on dutifulness and loyalty, according to Đào Thị Loan, 80, a Hanoian artisan that has been making the cake for more than 60 years.
The cake is used to place on the altars of Vietnamese temples and pagodas and that of local households to worship their ancestors, said Loan.
Loan said ingredients to make the cake include roasted glutinous rice powder, refined white sugar, vanilla and grapefruit flower oil.
Kicker: A maker wraps the oản cakes in cellophane papers. — Photo kinhtedothi.vn
The first step is to cook the sugar with water until it becomes dense then stir well it with vanilla and grapefruit flower oil.
The process of cooking the sugar (locally known as hoán đường) is the most difficult step because there needs to be enough sugar to ensure its sticky, said Loan.
"We have our own secrets on mixing the right rate of wet sugar and the glutinous powder to ensure the cake is not too dry or too wet. We often base on the weather to adjust the right ingredients,” said Loan, adding that she uses different sized wooden frames, which forms are of tower shape with the top flat to cast the cake.
Each frame is carved with images of a dragon flying or a phoenix dancing which reflects the quintessence of the capital, Loan said.
Kicker: Oản artisan Đào Thị Loan is decorating her cakes. — Photo kintedothi.vn
Care is needed when casting to ensure the cake is not broken, she said, adding that the last step is to wrap it in colourful cellophane papers (locally known as giấy ngũ sắc) and stick a yellow stamp with the word Thọ (long life or life span) on its top.
Loan said her Tịnh Ngọc shop also makes big oản cakes which weigh up to 10kg and are decorated to supply pagodas and temples in the north.
A monk, at national-level ranking Quỳnh Pagoda in Hà Nội’s Hai Bà Trưng District, said a pure oản cake is important to offer to Buddha or God by disciples while worshipping at the pagoda.
Kicker: Casting oản cake needs carefully care to ensure it is not to be broken. — Photo afamily.vn
The anonymous monk said the oản cake is one of four offerings that are must-haves for a worshipping ceremony because an incense stick represents rituals, flower reflects the beauty given by God, fruits represent special produce from localities and white oản cake is a symbol of the Earth.
Asked why oản cakes are available in the alters of pagodas and temples, the monk said it is made of traditional glutinous rice (locally known as nếp cái hoa vàng) which is said to be the best rice for its soft and fragrant flavours.
Nguyễn Thị Thất, a Buddhist in the northern province of Thái Nguyên, said she often travels to Hà Nội to buy oản cakes to offer to pagodas during big anniversaries such as Buddha’s birthday, Rằm Tháng Bảy (the fifth day of the seven lunar month), Tết holiday and other ceremonies.
Kicker: Many pagodas, temples and individual household are interested in artistic oản cakes. — Photo kinhtedothi.vn
“I believe that the colourful oản cakes bring good luck such as being healthy, and wealthy all year round,” Thất told Việt Nam News.
Loan said apart from making traditional oản cakes her Tịnh Ngọc shop also produces oản nghệ thuật (an artistic oản) in which her descendants have invested their time and soul to make it.
“We all try our best to preserve the job handed down by our ancestors but more importantly we would like to keep the Vietnamese spirit through our oản cake speciality,” Loan’s son said. — VNS