Remembering my grandparents’ “authentic Hue nam cake"
Update: Mar 03, 2023
After work, we went with each other to grab a snack and to add some energy to our hungry, grumbling stomach. After wandering around for a while, our group stopped at the "beo, nam, loc" restaurant located at a corner of Nguyen Trai Street (Hue), under the cool green trees inside the Citadel.

Hue nam cake, the cake of memories and of family

We order a bit of everything to fill our empty stomach. About 5 minutes later, the owner brought out the hot cakes neatly arranged on the plate. When I saw the plate of nam cakes, it reminded me of my grandparents and the cakes they made, which are now just memories.

When I was a child, every time my grandmother went to Quang Tri to visit me, she always brought a sling bag. Inside that bag, there were always a bunch of big nam cakes and a few packages of areca candy as gifts for her grandchildren.

When our parents encouraged us to study well, they said that our “reward” would be a trip to Hue during the summer vacation to visit our grandparents. Hearing that, my siblings and I were all excited and tried our best to study well so that we could go to Hue, to visit our grandparents, and especially to eat our grandparents' nam cake.

My grandparents were born and raised in a poor rural area in Phong Dien district, north of Hue. Like the villagers here, their source of income was mainly from making nam cake.

My grandfather made the cakes and my grandmother sold them. As a habit, from early in the morning, my grandmother would get up to go to the market to buy all kinds of ingredients such as shrimp and meat to make fillings. Meanwhile, my grandfather at home worked hard kneading dough, wiping every leaf clean, and neatly stacking them on top of one another. One by one, the cakes were shaped by the hands of grandparents and boiled. While still hot, the cakes followed the grandmother wandering around the streets to serve customers. 

My grandfather once told me that this profession was not a family tradition. My grandfather learned it from the people in the village. Besides fresh, clean and delicious ingredients, to have a perfect cake with rich Hue flavor requires meticulousness, ingenuity and the soul of the cook. 

The ratio of flour to water must be properly balanced. When boiling, it is necessary to stir the cake dough to get the right consistency, and to avoid it being too wet or dry. This is the most important step because it determines the softness and characteristic aroma of nam cake.

The process of wrapping the cake also requires meticulousness. After the banana leaves are wiped clean and split into two layers, non-stick cooking oil is spread and then a thin layer of dough is spread in the middle. As for the filling, it must also be spread evenly along the dough. The cake must be wrapped in a rectangular, eye-catching shape, and then steamed for about 25-30 minutes. 

A delicious cake is a cake that combines the sweet and rich taste of shrimp and meat hidden behind the leaves and through the smooth rice cake.

My grandfather once added, whether nam cake is delicious or not depended on the "skill" of making the dipping sauce. Normally, for every four cups of filtered water, add 1/2 cup of sugar; after simmering it for a while, then add 1/2 cup of delicious fish sauce and stir well. Next, add a little lemon juice and mix the sauce to give it a light sweet taste.

Although the words my grandparents once told me have long passed, they are like a memory, a slow-motion movie to me. My grandparents’ nam cake, Hue nam cake is not only a dish, but every time I think about it, it seems to make me a little reminiscent of the love that my grandparents had for the cake, for their children and grandchildren. And it was an integral part of my childhood and of me today.

Story and photo: Ngoc An

Hue News - - February 28, 2023
Hue cake, nam cake,