The Art of Making Bánh Tét

The Astronomer and I woke up super-duper early this morning to witness a very special tradition—the making of Bánh Tét. With the Lunar New Year days away, my grandma’s sister (Ba Sau) and her two daughters-in-law gathered for their annual ritual of making this holiday specialty.

Bánh tét are cylindrical sticky rice cakes filled with pork fat and mung bean paste seasoned with black pepper and shallots. The cakes are wrapped in banana leaves and as a result, the sticky rice takes on a pale green color and a slightly leafy taste. Even though bánh tét are available all year, it is still considered a New Year’s treat.

Back at home in America, no one in my family goes through the trouble of making bánh tét by hand. Seeing one of my favorite foods executed firsthand definitely gave me a greater appreciation for it.

The cake filling of pork fat and mung beans were made a day earlier and left in the fridge to stiffen. The filling was then covered with uncooked sticky rice atop banana leaves.

Ba Sau wrapping the filling and sticky rice grains in banana leaves.

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Ba Sau tying the green package with some sort of natural twine. Maybe grass?

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Ba Sau adding some extra sticky rice grains to the ends of the cake.

The bánh tét crew. The Astronomer called them an assembly line.

Di Loan building a fire by the side of the house to cook the bánh tét.

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A large metal pot is placed atop the fire and filled with water.

Di Loan and Thi fanning the flames.

While we waited for the water to boil, we had an informal photo shoot. I forgot to wear pink pajamas!

Placing the bánh tét in the boiling water.

Extra banana leaves are placed on top of the water to keep the bánh tét from discoloring.

After six hours of boiling away, the bánh tét will be ready to eat! Photos of the finished product to come!

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11 Responses to “The Art of Making Bánh Tét”


  • That’s funny that you’ve written about this because my mother came to visit me this weekend and brought some banh tet. I was teasing her that I might have better when I arrive in Vietnam. She was telling us that when she was in Vietnam they used bamboo to tie the banh! Where’s the dua mon?

  • Neneh – no worries, I had some homemade dua mon with my banh tet! try to get your hands on some homemade banh tet in Vietnam, my great aunt says its way better than the stuff sold in stores. Homemade dua mon is a bonus!

    Wandering Chopsticks – I hope your aunt brought some candied coconut and ginger and mut tom along with the banh tet ;-)! And I think you’re right about the “twine.”

  • Cathy, I saw your brief commentary on SeriousEats – I’m so jealous you’re in Vietnam witnessing the making of banh tet! The photos look too delicious. My mom and I just made some banh chung:
    http://vietclub.blogspot.com/2008/02/making-bnh-chng.html
    -y

  • Yen! Super post on banh chung, your mom is a champ! I wish my mom made the stuff, but sadly, she is a purchaser.

  • i just found this site via chubby hubby and i see that wandering chopsticks comes by so i know this site is going to be great. wandering has given me many a great recipe….this is fascinating to see and i recently saw an episode of this on tv.

  • Hello Blondee, thanks for swinging by. Wandering Chopsticks has impeccable taste ;-)

  • Thanks so much for your post on this great Tet’s tradition. My mom used to do this every year, now my sister does. Btw, I bet you will look great in pink pajamas :)

  • Snake monkey – yay for your sister keeping the tradition alive :-).

  • wow, those look almost identical to the banh tet my parents make each year.
    They’ve turned it into an informal quasi-enterprise. each year, friends and families will start calling to place orders a few weeks before tet. my mum and dad usually cap out at around 300 banh as they are sooo time-consuming and requires a HUGE amount of ingredients and materials, especially banana leaves.
    funny thing is i can’t stand the stuff, the only way i will eat it is after frying, then i’ll eat the rice and chuck away the fillings +)

  • This is the only site I’ve found revealing play-by-play photos on how Banh Tet is made. I learned how to make Banh Tet by myself with the aid of referencing recipes on how to make Banh Chung. Since I’m Caucasian and young, none of my Vietnamese friends or Laotian in-laws can believe I made it, funny huh…white-bread knows how to make this…hehe.. I fell in love with it the first time I tried a roll I bought in Chinatown, Boston, that was over 9 years ago. The fragrance of the cooked banana leaves over rice alone, never mind the fillings is still a savored experience.
    Thank you for your photos on your blog!
    Cheers,
    Katie

  • Oh, how fun! Yes, I’m definitely more used to banh chung. Maybe I lacked enough trash cans growing up. Now I’m craving banh tet! Thx for sharing. :D

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