Hoi An is not only known as a famous tourist spot at home and abroad with a unique old town architecture built around the 17th century, but also has many traditional craft villages preserved and associated with the city development. Its products are unique souvenirs that visitors cannot ignore when coming here. In this post, we are extremely excited to introduce to you a special souvenir, aka “our childhood toy” that is not so widely known by foreigners. They are little stuff made from clay in the shape of cute animals and magically can make funny sounds – “Tò He”.
“Tò He” is an edible folk toy which is originally from Northern part of Vietnam. No one knows exactly when was it created or its ancestor, just knowing that it is a unique folk toy for Vietnamese children in many generations. Initially, “Tò He” was made of flour used for worshiping so they often have the shape of animals such as peacock, chicken, buffalo, cow, pig, fish … Those have such a relatively similar color to the real stuff and been added little sugar so kids can eat them like candies. Nowadays, according to cultural exchange and each local custom, there are huge differences among each version of Tò He” in each region of Vietnam.
“Tò He” Hoi An – a completely different variation marking Hoi An’s identity
Unlike the edible Northern “Tò He” made from flour and sugar, “Tò He” in Hoi An are distinctly made from brown clay (of course inedible) and a final product after baked can sound like a simple flute. Most of them are molded and baked in Thanh Ha pottery village, which is only about 3 km from the old town. Villagers share that making “Tò He” has existed here for hundreds of years. At first, they had no clear shape, but only a piece of clay, square or round, and 2 holes in the middle and at the back to make sound. Until later, as tourism developed, travellers visiting the pottery village seemed to enjoy the sound of “te te”, at which time the artisans began to come up with plentiful eye-catching shapes to suit buyers’ tastes. Those can be 12 Chinese zodiacs, Koi fishes, turtle, frog … or even some cartoon characters like Nemo, Toothless, Simba, which are kid-attracted and must be specially ordered a week in advance.
It is believed that to complete a “Tò He” that is both beautiful and “sound-emitting” is such a feat. Clay, after being taken from the fields along the Thu Bon River, has to go through the composting process to retain moisture. After that, keep beating for the soil to be ready, then use hands to shape each of the animals in a very meticulous way. Finally, each animal is pierced 2 holes below the tail and chest to create a pleasant sound. These animals then will be dried under the sun for a day and furnaced for about 16 – 20 hours before being sold in the old town. “Tò He”, which still retain the simple color of terracotta, are displayed on the flat plain bamboo basket, no colorful signboards, as simple and true as the nature of Hoi An people.
A silent “soul keeper”
Every time we pass by the corner of Tran Phu and Hoang Van Thu street do we often see an old lady wearing nón lá, munching betel leaves and cheerfully invites us to buy “Tò He”. Regardless of whether it is sunny or rainy, weekdays or holidays, she still sets them out regularly. Mother Năm (her name) is about 80 this year and has sold “Tò He” in the old town for nearly 10 years. After several chit-chats, she seems to be more open to share with us her stories. “I know how to make “Tò He” when I was little. My dad taught me but we just made it for fun. Now, as I’m too old to work on a field, I get back to sell “Tò He”, which is not too laborious but also helps me earn money. Although it doesn’t cost much, just about 10.000 VND per one but to me, it’s like an old age joy.”
When asked about selling other things for more money, she laughed out loud. “People who live more than half the live like me, at this age, money is not too important. I chose to sell “Tò He” because I love it, I love it since I was a kid, until now, I’m old, but I still love it! I want everyone to know about “Hoi An people’s childhood””. This old folk is willing to keep the soul of the pottery village in particular and Hoi An in general. “And sitting here, selling and watching the old town change every day is also very fun!
*All photos used in this article are from the internet