Vietnam, with long rivers and broad beaches, attracts the local and global tourists thanks to not only the magnificent landscape but also ancient cultural and traditional values. As a country of rich cultural heritage, Vietnam is famous for numerous traditional jobs, including making salt. Along the coastline of the country, people can easily see white salt fields pop up in blue sky background. The picture of workers one by one carrying salt shoulder poles under intense sunlight is rustic yet surprisingly attracting. It touches people’s hearts due to the beauty of a kind of production that mother nature gives. Meanwhile, it also delivers a story about the industriousness of salt workers.
Appeared hundreds of years ago, making salt is one of the Vietnamese traditional jobs that raising many generations of “diem dan,” the salt workers. Thanks to suitable climate, geography and salinity of seawater, Vietnam is one of the most significant salt productions in the area and the world. Different regions have various salt-producing techniques, like the sand-drying or the water-drying, depending on the climate conditions. Sand-drying technique is mostly used for food production while water-drying can be used either for manufacturing food and other chemical industries.
If you have a chance to go to producing-salt areas, it is easy to see industrious salt workers wearing simple long-sleeve shirts to protect their skin under the burning sun enthusiastically do their job on fields. In the northern areas, salt is produced by a hundred–years-old sand-drying technique. The whole process is done manually, including three main steps: drying sand, filtering and crystalizing. Meanwhile, taking advantages of the long coastline from Central to Southern Vietnam, workers apply drying-water method to collect salt. In the early of the 20th century, the French brought this technique to Vietnam.
In the North of Vietnam, salt production is mainly concentrated in Thai Binh, Nam Dinh. In Central Vietnam, it is from Binh Dinh to Binh Thuan. In the Mekong Delta Areas, Bac Lieu is the main place to produce salt. With the differences in geographic characteristics and manufacturing methods, there are various types of salt depending on its producing locations. If you have an opportunity to come back to Vietnam on the journey to find your root, visit those places to clearly distinguish the diverse tastes of salt.
The famous salt-making places in the North are Tam Đong of Thai Binh province and salt villeges of some districts, including Giao Thuy, Hai Hau, Nghia Hưng and Nam Dinh. The northern salt has a low level of salty, around 70-80 per cent, but it is rich in mineral substances and microelements, such as magnesium, potassium, phosphor, which helps generate and boost functions of cells in the human body. This is also considered as an excellent source to compensate for the lack of mineral substances in the body. Tam Dong salt is nicknamed as “product given from heaven.” About the taste, beside the saltiness, the Northern salt’s taste is the mixture of bitterness, tartness, sweetness and sourness. This is the unique of this area’s salt.
Being one of the most prominent making-salt places in the country, the product from Ca Na of Ninh Thuan province is bigger and whiter than other areas. The proportion of sodium chloride, which is also known as pure salt, accounts for 90 per cent. Thanks to the salty yet fresh taste, Ca Na salt becomes the key ingredient of the famous Ca Na fish sauce.
Delta areas in Vietnam are famous for its iconic Henicorhynchus salted fish paste and one of the significant factors making the typical taste if this dish is Bac Lieu’s salt. This type of salt is well-known due to its white colour, purity, dryness and hardness. Compared to others, Bac Lieu salt has no bitter taste yet lightly sweetness, due to the high proportion of sodium chloride and the low level of Magnesium chloride and calcium sulfate. Additionally, this salt is lightly pink because of being dried on the clay soil.
Similar to many other traditional jobs, making salt in Vietnam has been through many ups and downs. Salt-workers have to face numerous challenges, from the extreme weather conditions to the competitive market. To toil and moil, but their lives are not stable, which makes them feel unmotivated to work in the salt field. With people who are continuing to produce salt, their biggest dream probably is to find a way for elevating the value of salt. Difficulties and challenges are still there, yet, there are still some eager footsteps to the salt filed of workers – the ocean’s children. Unlike the bustle and hustle feelings in cities, local people in those beach areas still remain to be rustic and hard-working. It seems like each shoulder pole of salt is also carrying laboriousness and patience of the salt makers, which also contribute to the unique beauty of the beaches in Vietnam. That’s how salt is made. Only if we know about the process, do we understand the values of salt that we use everyday?
This post is also available in: Tiếng Việt