The Tet Festival, Vietnamese New Year, is the most important in the calendar. There are several activities within the Festival and one of them is a rice cooking competition when women are able to display their skills in cooking something that is central to Vietnamese cuisine.
It is something that is held in villages throughout north and central Vietnam. There are complex rules involved with women cooking outside in a bamboo boat; all the villages that have such a competition will have a village pond. No one is allowed to use charcoal; too easy. They must each use dried sugar cane which is not the best of burners, especially if there is wind or rain.
There is an early start, at dawn, so if you are on a Vietnam private tour and intend to visit a village during this time, you are unlikely to see the start, unless you are enjoying a homestay in a village. Many boats gather on the bank, as many as a pond would take at times; large ponds may allow for 200 women to compete. They get on to the boats with a roll of drums with their pots and fuel, light their fires and wash the rice.
There is another signal, drums again, to mark the start of the competition. It is a juggling act to keep the boat stable, never mind the task of cooking. The winner is the one that finishes first but quality is important as well. It is actually a time when some mothers try to find a suitable wife for their sons; cook cooks and calm under stress are two sought after talents. There is also a competition for boys though the rules are less strict.
There is a village on the outskirts of Hanoi called Thi Cam that has run a rice cooking competition since the 18th Century. If you book a Vietnam tour package you are certain to visit Hanoi and a Hanoi travel agent can certainly arrange for you to visit. There are two other contests; water fetching and fire making but the highlight is the rice cooking.
The quality of the rice is important and judges will taste from each pot before deciding the winner. When you travel in Vietnam, you will come across many traditions and a rice cooking competition is one of them; a skill that certainly makes for a good wife.