Every Lunar December, as a very old tradition, our people in my hometown would gather to dry sticky rice and make oven from soil in order to make the pop rice cake for Tet.
Pop rice cake is actually easy to make, it only contains three ingredients, which are sticky rice, sugar and old ginger.
However, since the cake is easy to make and everybody can make it, it would be very hard to make a good one. To have a perfect pop rice cake, we need a meticulous process from the preparation to the end.
Firstly, we have to choose good ingredients. The sticky rice must be chosen since it was still in the field. After harvesting the rice, we have to dry it directly under the sunshine for a few days. Then, keep it tight in nylon bag so that it will not be soggy.
The sugar used to make the cake should be white enough so that the cake would have a light yellow. With the gingers, we will use the old ones, and we have to bury them in sand a long time before we begin to make the pop rice cake.
One interesting point when making the pop rice cake is the blast. Putting the sticky rice into the frying pan and fry it. The larger the blast is, the bigger the rice will be. Then, remove all the rice husk.
The next step is cooking sugar with ginger. Cut the ginger into small thin slices, put them in the pot of melted sugar and stir them all together. After that, blend that mixture with the fried sticky rice and push them all into a wood mould. Then we have to use a club to strike steadily so that every parts of the mould would receive the same force.
After striking, the cake would have square shape and be about two spans in length. Finally, put it on a flat wide – meshed basket and dry it in on hot coal and we would finish making the pot rice cake. When we serve the cake, we can either cut it in into thin slices of square, rectangle or triangle shape.
The fragrance and hot of the ginger mingles with the sweet of sugar and sticky rice makes the common cake become ambrosia, especially on Tet. The cake would be best when we serve it with hot tea.
These days, the pop rice cake in Quang Ngai has been produced in a technological way. Instead of using the oven made of soil which use coal or firewood, people now use
electric oven. In addition, they no longer strike the dried sticky rice like by using mould and club like the traditional way but using machine, which is quicker and more convenient.
Yet, every time the Tet comes, I still miss the pop rice cake made in traditional way. The simple flavors of the cake arouse me so many sweet memories of my childhood with the familiar images of my parents and my hometown.