A 65-year-old woman living in District 6, Ho Chi Minh City has dedicated the past 55 years to perfecting the art of making Teochew glutinous sesame cake and running her family business.
If foodies are looking for Chinese cuisine and desserts, Ho Chi Minh City’s Cho Lon neighborhood is the place to go.
The Teochew glutinous sesame cake stall on Luong Nhu Hoc Street – a 50-year-old tiny cart that has long been popular with Cho Lon's dessert aficionados – is one of dozens of dessert stalls in the city.
|Khuu Thi Tu Anh cuts a dough into bite-size pieces at her stall on Luong Nhu Hoc Street, District 5, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre|
Khuu Thi Tu Anh, 65, the owner of the stall, wakes up each morning at 3:00 am to prepare ingredients for the day.
The dessert that Anh sold is known by local people as 'Ka Lo Chia,' a glutinous black sesame cake made from sweet glutinous rice flour that has been soaked, ground, and formed into a batch before being steamed.
The steamed dough is later put on a hot pan during the day to create a crispy coat.
After Anh prepares the ingredients for her dessert, she pushes her cart from her house in District 6 to 186 Luong Nhu Hoc Street and along Nguyen Trai and Ky Hoa Streets in nearby District 5, Ho Chi Minh City until she runs out of stock.
|A portion of glutinous cake mixed with roasted peanuts and sugar sold at Khuu Thi Tu Anh's stall on Luong Nhu Hoc Street, District 5, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre|
Each time a customer comes to her cart, Anh cuts the dough into bite-size pieces. She then mixes the pieces with sugar and roasted peanuts before topping them with black sesame.
According to Anh, her ancestors hail from Teochew, China, but she was born in Soc Trang Province in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta region.
She is the last person in her family to sell the dessert, a profession she inherited from her aunt and mother.
|A portion of glutinous cake mixed with black sesame and sugar sold at Khuu Thi Tu Anh's stall on Luong Nhu Hoc Street, District 5, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre|
"The price of one portion is VND15,000 [US$1 = VND23,000], which is the same rate I’ve been charging for years," she said.
"The chewiness of the glutinous rice flour, which I grind myself rather than using ready-made flour, adds to the dish's appeal.
"I sell two different toppings: sugary black sesame or sugary peanut."
|Ngoc Chau (left) and her son buy glutinous sesame cake from Khuu Thi Tu Anh’s stall on Luong Nhu Hoc Street, District 5, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre|
"I’m Chinese and have been eating this since I was a child," said Luu Phuoc, a resident of District 11.
"In Saigon, there aren't many people selling this dish."
For a long time, Anh was the only vendor, Phuoc said, adding Ka Lo Chia is a type of dessert so he comes here when he is in the mood for something sweet.
"My child is immensely fond of this dish," said Tran Ngoc Chau, a resident of District 5.
"He can finish two portions in one sitting.
"I have tried three other places, but the flour tasted the best here.
"The price is higher by VND5,000-10,000, but the quality is obviously better."
With 50 years of experience selling the cake, Anh’s cart is considered 'the keeper' of the traditional dessert of Saigon, the old but still popular name of Ho Chi Minh City.
However, the dish is particularl scarce now due to the lack of business and the wide variety of desserts that can be found in the metropolis.