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Banh Chung – Square rice cake in Vietnamese Tet

2 Feb

Banh Chung (Square rice cake) is a traditional Vietnamese for lunar new year rice cake which is made from glutinous rice, mung bean, pork and other ingredients. Its origin is told by the legend of Lang Liêu

History and Legend

The origin of Banh Chung can be traced to Hong Bang Dynasty – when the 6th Hung Emperor ruled the land (read Vietnam Early History). Sadly thinking he was too old to lead the country, Hung Emperor wanted to find the one to inherit his position and sit on the throne. Therefore, he held a cooking contest for his 21 sons, and who could fully satisfy his taste would be the winner.

Vietnam Square Cake with the glossy green when they are taken off the steaming pot

Most princes set out on their journey to find special, exotic and far-fetched food, except for Lang Lieu – the 18th son of Hung King, also the poorest and loneliest since he lost his mother at a young age. Not having enough money to afford such delicacies, Lieu just stayed around his house.

Thanks to the help of a fairy in his dream, Lieu came up with 2 types of cake called ‘Banh Chung’ and ‘Banh Day’ and started baking exactly like what he had been told. On a spring day on which all the princes’ labor had to be presented, Lang Lieu and his wife brought Banh Chung and Banh Day to the emperor while other princes presented such expensive and unusual dishes.

Others sneered at Lieu’s cakes, but Hung Emperor was deeply impressed by the special flavor of these cakes. He asked Lieu about the meaning of these cakes. Lieu said that he had cooked the glutinous rice, then molded it into a round rice cake, and called it Banh Day as it symbolized the sky we live under; he also cooked a square rice cake, stuffed it with cooked bean paste and ground meat in the middle, and called it Banh Chung, which was symbolic of the earth we live on.

After that, Hung Emperor decided that Lieu was the winner and passed his throne to him. Since then, Banh Chung and Banh Day become traditional foods during the Tet holiday.

Banh Chung today

Banh Chung can be served as it is or fried to make ‘Banh Chung Ran’ – a delicious for such cold February in Vietnam. In some other regions, especially the Southern part of Vietnam, Banh Chung can be wrap in a cylindral shape with same ingredients, called ’Banh Tet’. A similar one to Banh Tet is ‘Banh Tay’ or ‘Banh Chung Dai’ (Long Banh Chung), served solely in the North with mung bean and little or no pork, hence, can be preserved for a longer period.

There are also many variations of Banh Chung according to regions, religions and likings such as Banh Chung Gu (Humped Banh Chung) of San Diu people, Banh Chung Chay (Vegetarian Banh Chung) for vegetarians and Buddhists, Banh Chung Ngot (Sweetened Banh Chung), etc.

  (Fried Chung Cake is a popular variation of Vietnamese Square Cake)

In traditional context, the process of making Banh Chung is an occasion for Vietnamese family members to get together. Sitting around the warm fire, talking and telling each other past stories, they get ready for a New Year with lots of good wishes.

Although nowadays, not many Vietnamese families keep this habit anymore, Banh Chung is still an irreplaceable dish of Vietnamese ancestor altar on the occasion of Tet. It is the evidence of the Vietnamese loyalty and great gratitude to their ancestors.

The importance of Banh Chung has already gone into poetry:

‘Thịt mỡ, dưa hành, câu đối đỏ
Cây nêu, tràng pháo bánh chưng xanh’

Translation:

‘Rich meats, Salty onions, red couplets
Nêu tree, firecracker, green banh chung’.

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Noodles with tofu and shrimp paste in Vietnam: It’s worth a try

11 Sep

Shrimp paste or “mắm tôm” is popular in many parts of Asia including Vietnam.As a matter of fact, “mắm tôm” or shrimp paste has long been in the list of “worst smelling foods in the world”. I know what some of you may react to this: “Ewww”, but come on. One of the reasons why you travel is to see (hear, smell, touch, taste, feel) the world in all its diversity, isn’t it? So why not give “mắm tôm” a chance? Besides, to you,” mắm tôm” may smell like a rotten animal, but to many local people, it is an aroma that makes their mouth water only thinking about it. After two or three times, trust me, you may feel pity for those who refuse to try this seemingly gross local food.

Basically, “mắm tôm” is made from shrimps and salt. The typical aroma comes from an enzyme which is available in the intestine of shrimps. Actually, “mắm tôm” smells exactly like the smell of the mustard-colored stuff in shrimp heads. The fermentation may take from six months to one year before mắm tôm can be served, normally with “nộm” sweet and sour grated “rau muống” water morning glory, “cà pháo” egg-plants, “thịt chó” dog meat and of course, “bún đậu mắm tôm”. You can surely guess, “bún đậu mắm tôm” includes noodles “bún”, tofu “đậu”, shrimp paste “mắm tôm” and, last but not least, odoriferous herbs “rau thơm”, which is optional but they will make the difference. “Rau thơm” can be basil “rau húng” or cockscomb mint “kinh giới”.

It is not difficult to find a street vendor that offers you this yummy dish.  You will notice that the vendors do something to the shrimp paste before giving it to you:  (s)he will add a few drops of a fresh lemon or satsuma “quả quất” and then some boiling oil from the same pan they are using to fry tofu. You will have to mix the whole thing well until the bowl is full of soft tiny white bubbles, which is how they make the smell less strong . Dip a piece of tofu, some noddles and a basil leaf into the sauce and eat them all together, you will feel heaven (my mouth is watering!). However, it shouldn’t be a big deal if you don’t like it first time. Remember when I had my first bite of durian, I almost threw up. Guess what, now I’m deeply in love with this fruit.

A dish of “bún đậu mắm tôm” in the street should cost from VND20,000 VND (US$1), quite cheap, which is one of the reason why I love street foods. Of course, the vendors will always give you two options: “mắm tôm” or fish sauce “nước mắm”. But, you know, there must be some reason why peole call it “bún đậu mắm tôm” and never “bún đậu nước mắm”. Last thing, you may want to prepare some pieces of chewing-gum to have after eating this very special food. I do hope after reading this, instead of referring to “bún đậu mắm tôm” as “one of the weirdest foods”, you may want to recommend it to your friends as a special feature of Asian cuisine.

Vietnam travel, Vietnam tours, Halong tours

Pemovic Ogress

Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup – Pho bo

31 Aug

Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup – Pho bo.

Banh Cuon (steamed rice rolls) – a favourited Vietnamese food

13 Aug

Banh Cuon (steamed rice rolls) – a favourited Vietnamese food.

Banh Cuon (steamed rice rolls) – a favourited Vietnamese food

13 Aug

“Banh Cuon” looks like a soft spring roll, filled with a mixture of pork, onions, wood ear mushrooms, and fish sauce..It tastes delicious and the ingredients are actually common foods.

For many years, Bánh Cuốn (Vietnamese steamed rice rolls) has never stop to demonstrate its long-lasting perfect comfort food to food lovers in Vietnam Travel. For those are familiar with Bánh Cuốn, it become favourite breakfast food. For those have not yet ever try the dish, once taste it, you soon fall in love with its flavor.

How to make it?

Starting with a steamed rice roll cooked on a pot, covered by thin fabric, until it is very thin. Then it is scrapped off the pot with a flexible bamboo stick. After that, the roll is filled with a mixture of pork, wood ear mushrooms, onions, and fish sauce.

When and where to eat?

Banh cuon stands face their rush times during breakfast and dinner, so it is difficult to find stalls still selling the dish in late morning or evening.

Use your better judgment when eating from street vendors, but on average I find that banh cuon carts are some of the cleaner carts on the street, and wearing plastic gloves is a common practice among these vendors. A plate will usually cost between 15,000 and VND20,000 on the street and, if you are afraid of the carts, between 25,000 and VND50,000 in some local restaurant.

If you are interested in exploring Vietnam travel you can visit Vietnam travel company, Halong cruise, Halong Bay, Halong tours site to know further attractive places.