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The profession of cooking mussels by the La River

HA TINH – More than 70 households living on the La River, passing through Duc Tho district, are engaged in fishing and cooking mussels for sale, earning a profit of 500,000 to one million dong a day.

Late in the afternoon of March, smoke rose from the small kitchens in Ben Hen village, Truong Son commune, the scent of mussels spread throughout the village. Under the La River, passing through Truong Son commune, Duc Tho district, Ms. Le Thi Ha, 45 years old, and dozens of women in Ben Hen village wear protective gear, wear hats, use baskets and bamboo baskets to treat mussels.

Ms. Ha said that at 6 pm every day, her husband rowed a wooden boat, used an iron rake or dived to catch mussels in rivers in Nghe An and Ha Tinh, and returned at 6 am the next day. She went to the boat to pour mussels into a bamboo basket and soak them in the La River for 6-7 hours to release all the dirt. In the early afternoon, she brought bamboo baskets containing mussels to the boiled shack.

The profession of cooking mussels by the La River
Ms. Ha (left corner) is washing raw mussels, preparing to bring them to the kitchen to cook. Photo: Duc Hung

The mussel cooking area of ​​the people in Ben Hen village is about 400 m long, running along the banks of the La River. Here, dozens of shacks 3-5 m2 wide, temporarily built with wooden poles, corrugated iron roofs or red-green canvas, surrounded by cement roofing sheets. In the shack, there is a built-in kitchen, enough for a large cast-iron pot. Above is a wooden truss to place firewood and tools such as baskets, baskets, nets, bamboo baskets… The shack is usually used for one to two years, after this time it has to be expanded and remodeled.

According to Ms. Ha, cooking mussels requires technique, when the fire is red and the cast iron pan is placed on the stove, it is necessary to put two or three buckets of clean tap water in the pan, then pour in a basket of 10-15 kg mussels. When the water boils, white foam bubbles up, the worker has to use a large wooden spoon to stir it back and forth evenly and then take out a bamboo basket placed next to it. A pan of mussels cooks for about 20 minutes. Pure mussel broth is also distilled and poured into plastic buckets to make broth.

“When boiling, don’t pour a lot of water, three dippers is enough. If you pour a lot of it later, the broth will be pale. In addition, the stove needs to be red evenly, if the fire is low or turned off halfway, the mussels will not open their mouths and will not open their mouths.” cannot separate the intestines,” Ha said.

A woman stirs mussels as the water in a cast iron pan bubbles. Photo: Duc Hung

After boiling, the batch of mussels, including the shell and intestines of about 10-15 kg, is placed in a basket, carried on a trolley and transported to the river. With both hands holding a bamboo basket containing mussels, above is a bamboo basket, which Ms. Ha dipped in the water. Her left hand holds the two tools, her right hand stirs vigorously clockwise so that the mussel shells stay under the basket, the intestines float up the sieve.

After 10 minutes, a batch of mussels was sorted, Ms. Ha brought the mussel container ashore, placed it slightly inclined to drain, and then put it in a nylon bag to sell to customers. With a lot of work to do, Ms. Ha often hires more people to cook mussels, paying 60,000-80,000 VND per session. Each afternoon, Ms. Ha’s household can cook 6 pans, the family has more manpower to cook 7-10 pans, about 100-150 kg of mussels.

For every 100 kg of live mussels, 10 kg of the finished product can be treated. One kilogram of intestines sells for 50,000-150,000 VND depending on the type, accompanied by two liters of mussel broth. In addition to importing to the Northern and Southern provinces, people also sell them to markets in the Duc Tho district. Mussels here have a rich sweetness, no mud, are popular with many customers, bought to make dishes such as rice cake, mannequin, hot pot, porridge, mussel rice…

“Every day, the family sells out 10-15 kg of mussel intestines, earning more than 1.5-2 million dong. Except for the expenses for depreciation of fishing gear, money to buy firewood… 500,000 to one million dong profit. High occasions At some point such as holidays or Tet, customers order a lot, my husband and I work all day and night to have enough goods, some days make a profit of nearly 3 million dong,” Ha said.

After cleaning, mussel intestines are put in nylon bags to be sold to customers. Photo: Duc Hung

According to Ms. Tran Thi Phuong, 45 years old, residing in Ben Hen village, mussel cooking takes place all year round, except when floods in September-November cannot be rowed to catch by boat, or the river water rises, flooding the shack and cannot cook. However, the job is very extreme, requiring workers with good health to do well in the stages of mussel island and underwater classification.

“Immerse myself in the water for many hours, sometimes my body is tired, my limbs are tired. After decades of working, I am used to it, it is difficult for newbies to survive. This is the main occupation, when storms and floods come, the water is flooded. If it rises for many days, the couple can take advantage of trading, or do some seasonal jobs,” Phuong said.

The leader of Truong Son commune said that the profession of cooking mussels in Ben Hen village has a history of more than 300 years. In the past, the whole village had nearly 200 households, now there are more than 70. This profession brings a stable economy. people earn more than one million dongs. The commune has established cooperative groups, supported capital to build boats and buy machinery so that people can feel secure to do business and maintain the traditional profession of their ancestors.

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