Banh Chung (Chung Cake): A traditional Tet Vietnamese symbol
Banh Chung (Chung Cake), a traditional Vietnamese dish, has become a symbol of the country’s culinary heritage during the Tet holiday. This square-shaped sticky rice cake, wrapped in banana leaves and filled with savory pork and mung beans, is an essential part of the Tet celebration and a favorite dish among Vietnamese people of all ages.
The meaning of Banh Chung (Chung Cake) in the traditional Vietnamese Tet holiday
According to the belief from ancient times, the Vietnamese Banh Chung (Chung Cake), which has a square shape, symbolizes the earth. It is made from glutinous white rice with a filling of green beans, pork belly, shallots, pepper, and more. All of the ingredients are wrapped in a layer of fresh green dong leaves and tightly tied with soft and flexible bamboo strings into a beautiful square shape.
The Vietnamese people have long lived in a culture of wet rice agriculture and have relied heavily on nature. Banh Chung (Chung Cake) on Tet banquet represents gratitude for favorable weather. It also expresses filial piety to ancestors and serves as a meaningful gift for relatives and friends.
. It also demonstrates the interdependence of the five elements when placed on the Tet holiday fruit tray.
Seeing Banh Chung is seeing Tet! Vietnamese always anticipate returning home for Tet, to make and share Banh Chung and stories from the past, while enjoying its unique Tet flavor of fragrant dong leaves, glutinous rice, green beans, and pork filling.
The origin of Banh Chung (Chung Cake)
In the consciousness of Vietnamese people and passed down through historical records to future generations, the origin of Banh Chung (Chung Cake) can be traced back to the legend of Lang Liêu and the myth of “BANH CHUNG, BANH DAY”.
Lang Liêu, a prince in ancient Vietnam, is credited with creating Banh Chung. According to legend, Lang Liêu had a dream where a divine being told him to use glutinous rice to create a square-shaped cake to represent the Earth and wrap it in green leaves, representing Heaven. Filling the cake with delicious fillings that resemble the myriad of creatures within them, he would express filial piety and gratitude to his parents and the virtue of nourishing and sustaining the family. This is how Banh Chung became a traditional dish in Vietnamese culture, especially during the Lunar New Year holiday.
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Ingredients and how to make Banh Chung (Chung Cake)
- 1kg Glutinous rice
- 400g Mung beans
- 400g Pork belly bamboo strings
- Salt, seasoning powder, pepper
- Dong leaves, banana leaves
- 1 bundle of rattan or bamboo strings
The simplest way to make Banh Chung
To make delicious Banh Chung (Chung Cake), you need to be patient and have a bit of skill. Now, let’s follow this recipe to make a pot of fragrant and traditional Banh Chung in Vietnam.
Preparation and processing
- First, rinse the golden flower sticky rice and put it in a pot of water. Add about 4g of salt, stir well, and soak for about 8 hours. After soaking, remove the rice and let it drain.
- Mashed the green beans, soak them in water for about 4 hours to soften and swell, remove the shell, then scoop out to drain. Add 4g of salt and mix well.
- Wash each dong leaf thoroughly on both sides and dry it thoroughly. Use a knife to remove the stem along the spine of the leaf to make it less stiff.
- Soak the rattan/bamboo string in water for about 8 hours, then tear them into thin strands about 0.5cm wide.
- Clean the pork belly and cut it into pieces about 4cm wide. Marinate it with 4g of seasoning salt and 1g of pepper for about 30 minutes for even absorption.
Wrapping the cake:
- Arrange the bamboo leaves into a rectangular shape and place the mold on top. Fold the leaves into the sides of the mold to create a rectangular box.
- When folding the leaves, make sure that the darker green side is facing inward. The lighter green side should face outward. This way, the darker side of the leaves will come into contact with the rice and give the cake a more attractive green color.
- Scoop about 200g of glutinous rice into the mold, press, and spread it evenly to fill the bottom of the mold.
- Spread 100g of mashed green beans evenly on top of the rice. Place a piece of pork on top of the green beans. Spread another 100g of green beans on top to cover the pork. Do not spread the beans all the way to the edge of the mold, leave about 1.5cm of space.
- Take another 200g of glutinous rice. Spread it evenly around, covering the surface of the mung beans. Use your hands to lightly press the rice in the corners and on the surface of the cake. Compress the rice.
- Next, fold the edges of the leaves, and use scissors to trim off any unnecessary parts. Then hold the leaf with your left hand to keep it from falling apart, use your right hand to slowly remove the mold and put it on your left wrist. Switch to your right hand to hold the leaf, then tie the ends of each bamboo string to make the cake firm and compact. Cut off any excess bamboo string to make the cake look neat and tidy.
- Finally, fold the edges of the leaves and use scissors to trim off any unnecessary parts to make the cake neat. Slowly remove the mold and keep the bamboo string, then tie the strings again tightly to secure the cake.
Boiling the cake
Place the Banh Chung (Chung Cake) into a pot evenly and pour enough water to cover the cake. Put it on a charcoal stove and let it boil continuously for about 8 hours. During the boiling process, pay attention to the water level and add water in time to ensure the cake is cooked evenly and not burnt.
Boil the cake until it’s cooked, then take it out, wash it, and clean the leaves in cold water to remove any sticky residue, then let it drain. Stack the cakes, press them with a heavy object, and store them in a cool, dry place.
The flavor of Banh Chung (Chung Cake)
Banh Chung has a unique flavor that comes from the combination of its ingredients and the cooking process. The glutinous rice, mung bean, and pork belly are seasoned with fish sauce, black pepper, and shallots before being wrapped in layers of dong leaves and boiled for several hours. This results in a savory, slightly salty taste with a hint of sweetness from the mung bean. The dong leaves also impart a subtle, earthy aroma to the rice. Overall, Banh Chung is a delicious and satisfying traditional Vietnamese dish with a rich and complex flavor profile.
In conclusion, Banh Chung (Chung Cake), is not just a food item but a symbol of Vietnamese cultural heritage and tradition. As an essential dish during the Tet holiday, it represents the value of family, unity, and gratitude. The meticulous process of making Banh Chung also reflects the patience, diligence, and perseverance of the Vietnamese people. Despite the evolving modern lifestyle and food culture, Banh Chung remains a cherished and meaningful delicacy that connects the Vietnamese people to their roots and ancestors.