Coconut Workshop - Ben Tre
is well-known as coconut island because it has a largest coconut growing area in Mekong Delta. A thousand of people are living on 40,000 hectares of coconut tree. First is the farmer, who has land and grow coconut trees, they sell co coconut fruit to middle man. Second is basis processing workshop where we visit now, people separate coconut flesh from coconut and sell them to manufacturer. Third is coconut candy and many people working for making candy, most of processes are making by hand so it requires number of workers. Ben Tre has not got a fertile land as other prince of Mekong Delta. Soil is not good if famer grows other fruit trees such as mango or orange. That is why, hundred years ago, farmer grows coconut for many generations, and therefore they are most experience in growing this type of tree. Coconut tree grows up to 3 years before having fruits, root of the tree going very deep and large in land, and so can not grow other type of tree. However, coconut fruit can be harvested all year round. From flowering time to fruit time it takes about 30 days and only some coconuts of one bunch could be picked at a time, people have to climb up the tree and pick by hand or they uses a long bamboo stick, they throw coconut into the irrigation water way so it not broken. Local also uses a string put around their legs so they can climb up easy but require strength. Coconut when it still green, the juice is sweet and refreshable and it is got very highe nutrition and more than energy drink you have at home. When coconut become brown, lighter which we call “dry coconut” the flesh inside thicker, harder and the juice is sour, we don’t drink the coconut at this age instead we use the flesh to make coconut milk, oil from which we can make candy, cooking or perfume.
Coconut is sold to the workshop, where people open the soft shell to take fibber (xơ dừa). Fibber uses to make chair, mattress, sound roof wall or rope. After separating the soft shell, we open the hard shell by special knife with a hook, the coconut need to be chopped evenly and roundly with small techniques; you have to use your two fingers putting on “coconut eye” and just one strike only. Putting the juice into a can. Coconut juice uses to make coconut jelly.
On this side we can see how coconut flesh is separated from the hard shell and then, coconut flesh is moved to the house behind for cleaning and female worker slices off the brown thin layer to get the white meat only, coconut white meat is soaked into water again for washing off all dirt that finishes for sale product. What do they do with the hard shell? It is also quite pricy for this part because it is very good quality char coal, we use this char coal for any cooking that requires very good heating for example making candy. The brown stuff is sold to make fertiliser after getting all oil. If you make candy you do not have to slice off this part. There are several of coconut trees in coconut family. Some type of coconut for drink only with a smaller size and with different colour, green, yellow, red…etc. The juice is much sweeter and tastier than coconut for oil. However, coconut for drink requires more fertile soil such as in the middle of Mekong Delta. Drinking coconut tree is shorter than oil coconut. Oil coconut tree is higher and the colour of fruits changes from green to brown and the size is bigger.
In here, people count coconut by “dozen” and a dozen not 10 coconuts but 12 coconuts. I don’t know how they count like that but it has been tradition for century or a good way to offer promotion in old days. In the market, a dozen cost at 120,000 Vietnam dong.
Besides buying half -processed product, sometime, many business people buying raw coconut for export and mostly they are Chinese at the moment. Price of coconut is up and down also and decides by the need of market and supply of the locals.
Vietnamese food are cooking with coconut milk is quite popular in Mekong Delta. Local dishes such as pork meat cook with coconut milk, shrimp cook with coconut milk is delicious but coconut milk uses for making cake, sweet soup and candy is most popular. Coconut harvestmen is also some time good year but some time bad year, specially, Ben Tre has got 2 months water is brackish in Feb and March, if the brackish time is longer than 2 months and will affect on the crop, a side from that, insects also attack coconut make its leaf falling down and then the tree die out. Sometime, coconut are eaten by rat although it quite rare in the country side.