Once Madame Moul has finished teasing the fermented rice dough into a substance resembling (to the eye, not to touch) whipping cream at the stiff-peak stage, it's time to make the num banh-chok.
She starts by spooning the dough into a mold, which consists of a round cylinder covered at the bottom by a perforated piece of metal. Once the mold is filled she places its heavy wooden press on top. (Notice the playing card in the photo above- Madame Moul will use it later to scrape dough off of the press.)
By now the water is boiling vigorously, and she needs to bring it down to a manageable simmer so that the noodles don't break up - easily done by adding a few dippers of cool water to the pot.
There's a double plank suspended directly over the pot, and Madame Moul places the filled mold into an opening cut in its middle; the wooden lip of the mold catches on the planks so that the whole thing doesn't go tumbling into the water.
She then grabs a long log, places it on the 'head' of the mold's press, and sits on one end, using the weight of her body to lower push the thick rice dough through the mold's tiny holes. Even with her weight on the log 'lever' it takes quite a bit of time for all of the dense dough to be extruded.
Once the noodles are in the water Madame Moul removes the mold from its cradle, pulls out the press (the dough is sticky, so this takes a fair bit of effort), and cleans it off with that playing card. She has just enough time to refill the mold and replace the press before the num banh-chok are done, signaled by their rise to the surface of the water.
Working quickly, she scoops them up in a basket
and carries them to a corner of the yard,
where she cools them off and rids them of any clinging starch with a plunge into a pail of water followed by several rinses.
Then it's over to a covered area where her daughter in-law waits to prepare the noodles for sale. After her mother-in-law slides the noodles into a bowl of water her partner lifts out consistently sized skeins of the by-now firm white threads,
loops them over her forefinger, and gently sluices off excess water with her other hand.
She then forms them into loose coils, which she then squeezes to remove as much water as possible.
Laid in a banana leaf-lined basket in concentric circles, the num banh-chok are ready for market and table.
Are you as awed by this process as we are?
Let's not romanticize it - there's no doubt Madame Moul and her daughter-in-law would welcome automation, or any innovation for that matter, that would lessen the effort and time required to turn rice into noodles. But there's ingenuity and hard-earned skills at play here, and we'll certainly remember this amazing sequence the next time we tuck into a bowl of num banh-chok.