Article by Pham Thi Van Anh (Vietnam)
Blog Correspondent of ASEAN-Korea Centre
The Story of Melon Island
Mai An Tiem was an adopted son of 17th King Hung. He was talented and that was why he was highly considered by people and received many favors from the king. Once he said ” Present means worry, gift means dept.” and that provoked his father’s anger. In spite of many pieces of advice from the whole court officials, there was an order that An Tiem and his family had to be deported to an isolated island in the far, far ocean without any belongings.
Fade came to those unlucky people. An Tiem’s family was left in the island with nothing but a blunt sword, a clay pot and food that was only enough for them in five days. The wife sunk in sorrows and sobbed while the husband was releasing her and manly declared that they could make everything by their hands. Life in remove place was so hard that both young and adult in the unfortunate family had to catch fish, oyster and also wild greens to remain life. Later the fruit was out of the season, fish in the sea could not be caught without net, bird was watchful over the trap. What they owned at this time was just some wild greens cultivated by the husband.
One early morning, An Tiem heard the sounds of birds in a distance then he just walked out to see the scene but the birds were frighten and flew high above in confusion and left a small piece of melon with bright red pulp and black tiny seeds. ” It was absolutely good for birds. It must be the same for Man” he thought ” Why don’t I do something with those tiny seeds?” Its fresh and sweet taste seemed to make him believe that his decision was right. With a blunt sword he ploughed a small piece of land and sowed it with the seeds. Time passed by; the man now was look happy and hopeful when travelling his eyes over the verdant and luxuriant plants sprawling on the sand. All people in the family looked for the coming day that their lianas bear fruit and the fruit got bigger and bigger…
One morning the family was woke by the sounds of bird. An Tiem came out into the sand and found one of the melon was half-eaten and showing the bright red color of its pulp. He brought it home then and cut a small piece to each person in the family. The melon taste was so good that everyone liked it but the rest of it was only consumed at noon when they felt that what they had eaten in the morning was harmful to them. Thank to this kind of fruit, life in the island now was much better. Melon was cultivated, harvested season by season. Every time An Tiem himself also dropped some fruits with his name curved over their skin into the ocean for the desire of sharing the happiness and looking for a way to the mainland. Later there were some merchants who got into the island and asked for exchanging toolsas well as food for the kind of fruit they had picked up in the sea.
Hung king somewhat felt regretful that he had put his son a death until the day he was offered a melon and broken the news that An Tiem and his family weren’t only alive but also cultivated a precious melon in the island. After that a favor was granted to bring An Tiem and his family back to the court as an honor to the country.
From that time on this kind of fruit – Watermelon – was commonly planted but it was said that those melons from Nga Son Island where An Tiem first cultivated it were the best ones.
Story of the Rice Cake
Emperor Hung-Vuong had many sons. Some pursued literary careers. Others excelled in martial arts. The youngest prince named Tiet – Lieu, however, loved neither. Instead, he and his wife and their children chose the countryside where they farmed the land.
One day, toward the end of the year, the emperor met with all his sons. He told them whoever brought him the most special and unusual food would be made the new emperor. Almost immediately, the princes left for their homes and started looking for the most delicious food to offer the emperor. Some went hunting in the forests and brought home birds and animals which they prepared into the most palatable dishes. Some others sailed out to the open sea, trying to catch fish, lobsters and other much loved sea food. Neither the rough sea nor the violent weather could stop them from looking for the best gifts to please the emperor. In his search, Tiet-Lieu went back to the countryside. He saw that the rice in his paddy fields was ripe and ready to be harvested, walking by a glutinous rice field; he picked some golden grains on a long stalk. He brought them close to his nose and he could smell a delicate aroma.
His entire family then set out to harvest the rice; Tiet-Lieu himself ground the glutinous rice grains into fine flour. His wife mixed it with water into a soft paste. His children helped by building a fire and wrapping the cakes with leaves. In no time, they finished, and in front of them lay two kinds of cakes: one was round and the other was square in shape.The round cake was made with glutinous rice dough and was called “banh day” by Tiet-Lieu. He named the square shaped cake “banh chung” which he made with rice, green beans wrapped in leaves. Everybody was extremely happy with the new kind of cakes. On the first day of spring, the princes took the gifts of their labor and love to the emperor. One carried a delicious dish of steamed fish and mushrooms. Another brought with him a roasted peacock and some lobsters. All the food was beautifully cooked.
When it was Tiet-Lieu’s turn to present his gifts, he carried the “banh chung” and his wife carried the “banh day” to the emperor. Seeing Tiet-Lieu’s simple offerings, other princes sneered at them. But after tasting all the food brought to court by his sons, the emperor decided that the first prize should be awarded to Tiet-Lieu.
The emperor then said that his youngest son’s gifts were not only the purest, but also the most meaningful because Tiet-Lieu had used nothing except rice which was the basic foodstuff of the people to make them. The emperors gave up the throne and make Tiet-Lieu the new emperor. All the other princes bowed to show respect and congratulated the new emperor.