Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Most Unusual Food....the story of the rice cake eaten at Tet (Vietnamese New Year)

TET, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year 2009, begins January 26th.
2009 is the Year of the Water Buffalo.
more information about the Vietnamese New Year can be found here
and here

Emperor Hung-Vuong had many sons.
Some pursued literary careers. Others excelled in martial arts.
The youngest prince named Tiet-Lieu, however, loved neither.
Instead, he and his wife and their children chose the countryside where they farmed the land.

One day, toward the end of the year, the emperor met with all his sons. He told them whoever brought him the most special and unusual food would be made the new emperor. Almost immediately, the princes left for their homes and started looking for the most delicious food to offer the emperor. Some went hunting in the forests and brought home birds and animals which they prepared into the most palatable dishes. Some others sailed out to the open sea, trying to catch fish, lobsters and other much loved sea food. Neither the rough sea nor the violent weather could stop them from looking for the best gifts to please the emperor.

In his search, Tiet-Lieu went back to the countryside. He saw that the rice in his paddy fields was ripe and ready to be harvested, Walking by a glutinous rice field, he picked some golden grains on a long stalk. He brought them close to his nose and he could smell a delicate aroma.

His entire family then set out to harvest the rice, Tiet-Lieu himself ground the glutinous rice grains into fine flour. His wife mixed it with water into a soft paste. His children helped by building a fire and wrapping the cakes with leaves. In no time, they finished, and in front of them lay two kinds of cakes: one was round and the other was square in shape.

The round cake was made with glutinous rice dough and was called "banh day" by Tiet-Lieu. He named the square shaped cake "banh chung" which he made with rice, green beans wrapped in leaves. Everybody was extremely happy with the new kind of cakes.

On the first day of Spring, the princes took the gifts of their labor and love to the emperor. One carried a delicious dish of steamed fish and mushrooms. Another brought with him a roasted peacock and some lobsters. All the food was beautifully cooked.

When it was Tiet-Lieu's turn to present his gifts, he carried the "banh chung" and his wife carried the "banh day" to the emperor. Seeing Tiet-Lieu's simple offerings, other princes sneered at them. But after tasting all the food brought to court by his sons, the emperor decided that the first prize should be awarded to Tiet-Lieu.

The emperor then said that his youngest son's gifts were not only the purest, but also the most meaningful because Tiet-Lieu had used nothing except rice which was the basic foodstuff of the people to make them. The emperor gave up the throne and make Tiet-Lieu the new emperor. All the other princes bowed to show respect and congratulated the new emperor.


Rice cake (or Banh Chung) and Banh Day are two types of delicacies which are very popular with the Vietnamese people. Banh Day is served regularly at festivals and ceremonies. It is a rounded, convex cake of glutinous or nep rice, which resembles white dough, soft and sticky. Its cupola-shaped top is said to resemble the shape of the heavenly vault. Banh Chung is served particularly at Vietnamese New Year's festival, which occurs during the first three days of the first month of the lunar calendar. It is a square cake, wrapped in banana leaves and tied with lacings of flexible bamboo slivers. It is a very rich food for the interior contains a filling of bean paste to which may be added small bits of pork meat, both fat and lean. This filling, which is amply seasoned, is pressed between layers of glutinous rice. Its square shape is considered a symbol of the thankfulness of the Vietnamese people for the great abundance of the Earth, which has supplied them with nutritious food throughout the four seasons of the year.

story and info found @

I've provided 2 Bahn Chung Recipes and one really wonderful Youtube vid.

Both recipes take HOURS to prepare.
If using this recipe with children it would probably be best to make one recipe ahead of time to show the children the finished product.

The vid shows a woman preparing the leaves and making the rice cakes.

Very interesting vid, showing the use of leaves to make a box for the rice cake.

Banh Chung
(Vietnamese New Year's cake)

Preparation time: 45 to 55 minutes
(plus overnight soaking)
Cooking time: 4 3/4 hours
(plus 1 hour to cool)

2 cups sticky rice
1/4 cup dried mung beans, hulled
6 ounces boneless pork shoulder or roast, cut into 1/4-inch slices
2 tablespoons green onions, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup water
Plastic wrap
Aluminum foil

How to make vietnamese New Year's cake (banh chung)
Place rice in one bowl and mung beans in another. Cover each with water and soak overnight. (*)
In a large bowl, combine pork, onions, fish sauce, and pepper. Set aside for 30 minutes.
While pork mixture is marinating, drain rice and beans thoroughly. Add salt to rice and stir well.

In a skillet or wok, heat oil over medium heat. Add pork mixture and stir-fry until meat is cooked through but still tender, about 4 to 6 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine mung beans and about 1 cup water. Simmer over low heat for 20 minutes, or until soft. Remove from heat, drain, and mash beans with a potato masher or fork.

On a countertop, spread out a piece of plastic wrap about 17 inches square. On top of this, place a sheet of aluminum foil of the same size.
Place almost half of the sticky rice in the middle of the foil and shape rice into a square layer.
Top rice with a layer of beans, using half of them.
Place pork slices on top of beans.
Add remaining beans and top off with most of the remaining rice.

Wrap cake by bringing together two edges of foil and plastic wrap. Fold edges over twice and flatten against the side of the packet
Tuck remaining rice into the two open ends of the packet, covering up beans and meat. Fold the open ends as if you were wrapping a gift.

Place packet, folded side down, on another large sheet of plastic wrap and wrap tightly.
Tie securely with a long piece of heavy string or twine, lengthwise and crosswise. The packet should be square or rectangular.

Place packet in a large stockpot full of water and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 4 hours, adding water if necessary.
Remove from heat and cool for 1 hour.

To serve, slice wrapped packet into 4 slices. Unwrap, arrange on a plate, and serve.
Serves 4

(*) When traditional banh chung is prepared in Vietnam, the rice absorbs a slight green color from the banana leaves in which the cakes are wrapped. If youlike a little color in your dish, simply add a drop of green food coloring to the rice and water before leaving to soak.
recipe found at

Banh Chung (Vietnamese Rice Cake)
Recipe #110166 | 7 hours | 1 hour prep |
Vietnamese Lunar New Year(Tet) will never be complete without this cake. It's very heavy, very filling. It takes a LONG time to cook. You read right that it takes 6 hours. And overnight soaking of rice and beans!
SERVES 8 (change servings and units)

200 g glutinous rice, soaked overnight
100-150 g mung beans, soaked overnight
100 g pork, cut into chunks,seasoned with
salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

1) You will also need: Strings and 6 phrynium leaves or aluminum foil can be used as substitute.
2) Steam or boil mung bean with half a tsp of salt until soft, may take up to 45 minutes depending on how large your steamer is.
3) Smash bean thoroughly.
4) Place 2 leaves in one direction, slightly overlapping, then 2 perpendicular, also overlapping, and the last layer like the first.
5) If use aluminum foil, place them crossing each other.
6) Place half of the rice on the leaves, topped with half of the mung beans.
7) Lay the pork on top of the beans, and then add the last of the beans followed by last of the rice.
8) Fold the leaves/foils over the cake very tightly into a square, use string to secure the cake.
9) Place in a large pot, cover with water and boil for about 6 hours.
10) Add water every hour if necessary.
11) After 6 hours or so, remove the cake, submerge it into cold water for a few minutes.
12) The cake lasts up to 10 days on a cool dry place.
13) The easiest way to cut up the cake is to open it and use the string to cut it up into 8 portions.
14) Best served with pickled onions.

recipe found at

Another good Banh Chung recipe with great pics including the cooked Banh Chung shown here @ This recipe also includes lots of tips on serving and other stuff.

You can also check out VietworldKitchen for info on cooking and eating Banh Chung


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