I am always fascinated by the different ways things are done in different countries. You know even something as boring as how to boil the water for a cuppa or boil an egg is interesting to me.
For me it just means that I put some purified water in to the electric jug and flick on the switch or boil some water in a pot on my gas cooker and putting the egg in it until it is done to perfection. But for others it’s just not like that and it takes so much more effort.
For the Vietnamese the way they have to boil some water of course is exactly the same as me for many people. I am more interested in what is different as one could only yawn with how boring this book would be if I wrote about things that were exactly the same as my life.
So, let me introduce ‘charcoal rounds’, well that is the name I have given them. In Vietnam was the first time I had seen them and I had an instant interest in them. I once drove past a factory that were making them but it was early days in Vietnam and I was a lot more shyer than I am today so just had a quick peek in the gate and drove off when someone saw me.
I see these guys bike or should I say pushing their bike into town totally chocker up with these rounds stacked up (I counted 300 once), which I doubt are particularly light. They head around the streets to their regular customers or anyone who sees them and are running out. I am sure the places they love to visit are the restaurants who buy in bulk.
Once I saw a guy I had seen in Truc Bac Lake area over by the Ethnology museum which must be about 6 kms (nearly 4 Miles) away; so these guys must do some miles on a daily basis. Yeah I know 6kms or 4 miles sn’t much of a distance if you are on a motorbike or car, but when you have a huge weight of charcoal on your bike it would be pretty far as on the way they need to push the bike; it is only on the way home when the weight and load is gone that you can actually bike.
This is another great door to door service available in. Unfortunately these rounds and service will die out one day as these charcoal rounds are not exactly the world’s cleanest fuel. I am sure in the future it will change to people using gas but many other things have to shift before that can happen.
Currently this a very cheap and long lasting fuel, once started it can burn for hours as the charcoal is only on the outside and what it actually heats up is the brick interior. With the nature of Vietnamese foods some items like Pho has a long cooking process that just can’t be hurried along. It would be like asking someone to quickly cook a stew or casserole; it just isn’t possible to get the right end product.
Cooking with gas is slowly coming in, especially for people who cook inside, but that is not a popular option for many people from more a financial viewpoint. For people to change their ways means the purchase of a new cooker, and a cost increase on a daily basis that is beyond the means of some of the population.
2010 photo’s – Mostly charcoal rounds are being used, sometimes together. Gas for quick cooking and charcoal for long slow burning items, in Noodle Shops in Hanoi, Vietnam.
There is huge health risks to using solid fuel to cook on, according to WHO (World Health Organization) 4.3 million people around the globe die prematurely due to household air pollution, but sadly the costs of alternative fuel is often prohibitive.
It is the livelihood of the sellers, who ride around on their bikes with charcoal stacked up all day until they sell their load, people are still using it.
So, the charcoal rounds live on.