Not Your Grandma’s Bánh Chưng

Banh Chung

Growing up, Tết was all about not screwing up. It was imperative that on the first day of the New Year, everything ran as smoothly as possible, which meant acing tests, being respectful to my elders, and not arguing with my brother. My mother made me believe that everything that happened on this day, both good and bad, would be repeated throughout the year. This superstitious notion scared me straight into action and, truth be told, continues to taunt me as a full grown adult.

These days, Tết has become less about “being good” and more about gathering with family, cleaning house, and of course, honoring food traditions. There are many dishes associated with the holiday including candied ginger and coconut, braised pork, and preserved pineapples, but the most iconic and essential of all is the square and squat bánh chưng and its cylindrical cousin bánh Tết.

Banh Chung

In honor of the upcoming New Year, which falls on February 10th, a group of friends and I gathered to tackle making bánh chưng from scratch. While we were all wholly enthusiastic about the task, none of us were very experienced, as evidenced by our poor, boiled-over mung beans early in the day.

Banh Chung

Leading the charge was Chef Diep Tran of Good Girl Dinette in Highland Park. Diep didn’t have a recipe (or YouTube tutorials) to guide us this afternoon, just vague memories from years ago of preparing bánh chưng with her grandmother.

Banh Chung

Chef Minh Phan of Beachwood Cafe in Hollywood volunteered her kitchen for our brave experiment. She also busted out some awesomely unorthodox stuffage for the bánh chưng including mulled pears and dates. This was clearly not going to be my grandma’s bánh chưng.

Banh Chung

Also on hand for the festivities was Quyen from Kitchen Runway (center) and fellow former Saigon expat Erin (right). Not pictured but not forgotten were Tien, Vy, Jade, Anita, and Truc.

Banh Chung

Traditional bánh chưng are hefty things measuring six inches by six inches and weighing in at close to a pound. Diep procured smaller metal molds, about three inches by three inches, from Sur la Table in order to reduce the cooking time; full-sized bánh chưng can take up to 12 hours to cook through.

To start, we carefully lined the molds with fresh banana leaves, making sure that the edges were padded to avoid any spillage or leakage.

Banh Chung

We kept the filling mostly traditional for the first batch. Diep marinaded the pork belly overnight in sauteed garlic and shallots with plenty of black pepper and fish sauce.

Banh Chung

Cooked mung beans were paired with the pork belly. We left the beans unseasoned, but next year we’ll be sure to jazz ‘em up with salt and black pepper.

Banh Chung

After lining the molds with banana leaves, we added in a quarter cup of glutinous rice that had been soaked in water overnight, two tablespoons of the mung bean paste, and two slabs of pork belly. Everything was topped off with another quarter cup of glutinous rice before being neatly folded and tied up with string.

Banh Chung

I was downright pitiful when it came time to assemble the bánh chưng, but my companions made beautiful, neat parcels.

Banh Chung

For round two, Diep prepared a most enchanting Vietnamese bacon that was cured in fish sauce, rubbed with a plethora of spices, and smoked in applewood. We paired the bacon with prepared lentils.

Banh Chung

For the third and final batch, we made a sweet version with ripe baby bananas macerated in maple syrup and fresh ginger. We topped this one off with a dollop of luscious coconut cream. We snuck some cooked bacon into a few of the sweet bánh chưng just for kicks.

Banh Chung

To cook the bánh chưng, we steamed the parcels for one full hour, which gave the glutinous rice enough time to bloom without becoming mushy.

Banh Chung

As soon as the bánh chưng were removed from the steamers, we dug right in. Considering how little know-how our crew had at the start, the results were straight up delectable. Bacon and lentils were made to be cradled in between layers of sticky rice! All that was missing was dưa món, sweetly pickled nibbles that are traditionally served alongside.

Banh Chung

I know I’m a little early, but I’ll go ahead and say it anyway: chúc mừng năm mới!

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13 Responses to “Not Your Grandma’s Bánh Chưng”


  • Happy Tet to you too! I’ll have to try this out…just never had the courage to make Banh Chung on my own.

  • The bánh chưng are such cute little packages! Wish i got to try one.

  • AHHHHHHHHH!!! these are so cute! and they look not as scary to make!!! maybe I will try to make some later this week…!!!

  • They look so adorable! You totally make it look easy too. If I were to make some sweet ones, I’d probably do plantains with fresh coconut and some sweetened coconut creme – something similar to che chuoi. Then slice and fry those babies up with a sprinkle of sesame seeds. This is inspiring me to go out and try your recipe!

  • Ila + Nerds with Food – Making banh chung from scratch really demystified the process for me. I hope you all with give it a go. A che chuoi inspired banh chung sounds BOMB! But what would your grandma say?!

  • She would probably tell me to respect my elders! :P

    You know, I never liked the sweet banh tet that we would randomly get from relatives. Do you know which one I’m talking about? You cut it open and it’s like all artificially purple? As a kid, anything THAT shockingly purple was not going to make its way onto my plate!

  • Nerds with Food – Was it banh tet chuoi? I think the purple coloring is actually natural in this case!

    I can also see in my mind’s eye a purple food colored concoction filled with sweet mung bean paste.

  • Oh, definitely the latter. It was bright Barney purple with mung bean in the middle and no matter how much my mom would try, she could never get me to eat it. Blech.

    The banh tet chuoi actually looks pretty tasty…

  • Nerds with Food – Banh Tet Choi is so so so good! I used to eat ‘em all the time when I lived in Saigon.

  • Everything looks fantastic! I’m not ready to take on banh chung making yet – way too intimidating. Hope you had a good new year with the fam. Chuc mung nam moi!

  • I ad this for the first time today! It was made by my friends 92 year young mother. It was absolutely terrific! It was sliced and browned in the wok and it was delicious!

  • Hi, I love your little banh chung. It looks like a perfect personal size. I am planning to make some since this friday is lunar new year. I was wondering about the cooking part. I was wondering if you really steam all of your banh chung or did you actually put them in a pot of water and cook them? I have been looking at different recipes and it seems like they all said to place banh chung in a large pot and then add water so that it covers all the banh chung and cook it for hours. I just want to make sure before I try this. Also, I would like to know how many banh chung did you place in the steamer to steam for an hour? Can we place banh chung on top of each other when steaming? How many can be in a steamer so that they will all be cook in an hour? I just want more details before I start. Don’t want to give them to friends and family any uncook or undercooked food. Thanks so much.

  • Lily — We steamed the banh chung because they were only wrapped in two layers of banana leaves. We steamed them for about an hour, the texture of the rice is more like xoi and less mushy than traditional banh chung with this method. It’s best to steam in one layer.

    This year, we vacuum packed the banh chung and boiled them for an hour. Very successful! The rice was more traditionally mushy using this method.

    Chúc mừng năm mới!

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