Archive for the 'Banh Tet / Banh Chung' Category

Bánh Tét Chuối

A few weeks back, Vernon’s Vietnamese teacher Hanh hooked us up with a couple of Bánh Tét Chuối because she’s super-sweet and knows how much we love trying new foods. Even though it was meant for the both of us, I was the sole benefactor of the gift because The Astronomer doesn’t do bananas, something about the texture and taste rubbing him in all sorts of wrong ways. He doesn’t know what he’s missing out on.

Whereas regular Bánh Tét are filled with savory mung beans, pork and pork fat, these not so distant cousins contain finger bananas. No extra sugar is added, so the singular caramelized banana brings the bulk of the flavor. The most interesting aspect of Bánh Tét Chuối is how the steaming process turns the banana a deep magenta. I’m no chemist, but I’d say that’s a result of a chemical reaction!

Vendors selling Bánh Tét Chuối usually ride around town on bikes with the goods hanging from their handlebars. Expect to pay 2,000 – 4,000 VND for one, depending on the size.

The Art of Eating Bánh Tét

I was instructed by my aunt and great aunt to hang the Bánh Tét until I was ready to eat it to avoid spoilage.
We ate the bánh tét with dua mon (vegetables pickled in nuoc mam and sugar). Fresh bánh tét is like no other—subtle and satisfying. The silky pork fat melted on our tongues.

Chúc Mừng Năm Mới!

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!

Bánh Chưng & Bánh Giò

During Tết (Luner New Year) this year, I was sick as a dog and desperately craving bánh chưng—a sticky rice cake filled with meat, pork fat, black pepper, and mung bean paste wrapped-up in banana leaves. I couldn’t get my hands on one because the lone Vietnamese grocery store in Philly on Washington Avenue was too far to walk to in my weakened state. Oh, how I yearned…

Growing up, banh chung was always consumed during Tết and was as much a part of the holiday as li xi (gifts of money in red envelopes). My cousins and I called the treat “foot cake,” which is the literal translation of bánh (cake) chưng (foot).

Since my arrival in Saigon, I have developed an obsession of sorts with foot cake due to my deprivation earlier this year. I estimate that I have consumed 5+ cakes in the past three weeks. The bánh chưng in Saigon are a smidge fattier than the ones in the states because they contain more fat than actual meat, but are truly just as good.

Lunch 8-13

Lunch 8-13d Lunch 8-13a

Lunch 8-13e

While wandering around town during lunch the other day, I found a woman selling bánh chưng (4,000 VND) and banh gio (4,000 VND) and The Astronomer and I decided to have one of each. We sat on some beach chairs lining the sidewalk covered by an awning, while the woman plated our selections. Both the bánh chưng and banh gio are pre-made and ready to eat. Using a sharp knife, she cut through the countless layers of banana leaves to unveil each delight.

The inherent stickiness of the bánh chưng is a turn off for The Astronomer, but I simply adore the cake’s texture and the faint taste of banana leaves ingrained in the rice. The mung bean paste is savory and works beautifully with the pork and rice.

The banh gio, which I learned how to make earlier this summer with my grandma, was really delicious as well. This version was softer in texture than my grandma’s and contained two quail eggs that were especially yummy. Similar to the bánh chưng, the essence of banana leaves seeped into the banh gio adding a layer of complexity.

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