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The story of the sweet potato vine (khoai lang ta)
Sweet potato vine drawing and story Since then they had lived happily together and with help from the local authority they rebuilt their lives. A small hut was constructed on a little piece of land allowing Lan to grow some vegetables and raise poultry for their consumption.

Years went by and Phuoc grew into a robust man in his 20s. He was granted a piece of land close to the forest at the border of the village. Every day he could be seen in his rice fields, where he ploughed from dawn to dusk, or was heard whistling on his way home with some fish that he caught in his field for the grandmother to cook.

One evening while Lan and Phuoc and other families were eating their dinner in front of their houses, thunder crashed and lightning struck all around them. Suddenly the forest surrounding the village was covered with fire. Everybody rushed out carrying buckets of water and tried to extinguish the fire in the hope of rescuing the forest, the rice fields and the crops to be harvested, but it was all in vain. In despair they just knelt down and wholeheartedly asked Buddha for help. Amazingly, heavy rain suddenly poured down. Lan gave a sigh of relief and recalled the terrible suffering from the catastrophe of the past decades which she had wanted to forget.

The villagers waited until the following morning to survey what had happened, only to see a vast area almost totally ruined. Trees, plants and rice stems had all been burnt and the ground was scorched. They thanked Buddha for the rain and agreed that without it, things could have been worse. As the soil was still wet, everybody started to dig it up with their hands, searching for anything edible.

Suddenly Phuoc yelled out. He pointed to an area that was only half burnt, and some leaves and plants were still green. Everybody rushed over to look. Lan broke one green leaf and put it in her mouth. "It tastes all right," she said. She then dug into the soil under her feet and a big root came up. Although it was half burnt she tried cleaning it with her dirty hands and tentatively ate it. "Delicious," she called out. In no time everybody followed that stem and under their eyes a green vegetable bed opened its leaves under the first rays of the sun. Again the villagers knelt down and thanked Buddha for giving them that gift. Without this precious root they would have suffered a famine just like Lan had done two decades earlier.

Afterwards they all took turns to look after that vegetable, which they called khoai lang ta (sweet potato) and divided the crop equally among themselves.

Sister Hue Can

Here is a recipe for sweet potato which is one of the first meals consumed when celebrating an ancestors' anniversary.

Canh kiem: vegetable soup from South Vietnam

2 sweet potatoes
200 g pumpkin
4 small taros
2 medium bananas, neither ripe nor green
1 medium coconut, neither dry nor young
100 g raw peanuts without skin
100 g lotus nuts (seeds), dry or fresh
200 g lotus roots (or one tin) or one fresh
      the same size as the sweet potato
10 g dry lily flower
10 g black fungus (wood ear)
10 g vermicelli
50 g arrowroot sticks
½ tsp cooking salt
Tin coconut milk
Peel sweet potatoes and pumpkin and cut each into eight pieces. Peel taro (if big cut in half). Peel bananas and cut in half. Open coconut, keep the juice for cooking, slice the flesh into 50 cm long, 10 cm wide strips. The flesh should be thick but chewable, not hard like dry coconut.

Clean and soak the peanuts and lotus seeds in water. If lotus roots are in a tin throw out the water. Preferably use the fresh ones. Clean fresh lotus root, scratch the skin and cut in 5 cm pieces. Clean and soak dry lily flower and tie in a knot. Clean and soak the dry black fungus in water and cut off the thick part. Slice into 2 cm pieces.

Clean and soak the vermicelli and cut it into 50 cm lengths. If the arrowroot sticks are long cut them into 50 cm lengths.

Put 1.5 litres of water and the coconut juice into a pot on the stove to boil. Gradually add all ingredients, hard ingredients like nuts first then sweet potatoes, pumpkin, taro then arrowroot sticks, vermicelli, lily flower, black fungus, coconut flesh. Lower the heat after the first ingredient so that it simmers.

When everything has been added, bring it up slowly to boil. When everything is soft but not falling apart, add salt and the tin of coconut milk and stir well. Turn off the stove.

Put into four bowls and bring to the table. Happy eating.