By the time you read this the Year of the Tiger has already begun in Asia. Here in LA, it is just the eve of Táº¿t (Vietnamese lunar new year) so I’ll take a quick break from the FIMTSO series to blog about one of our new year traditions: the bÃ¡nh chÆ°ng, a salty cake made of glutinous rice stuffed with pork and mungbean…
and wrapped in lÃ¡ dong (leaves), which are sometimes substituted with banana leaves.
The lore behind this cake is that King HÃ¹ng VÆ°Æ¡ng had a competition for all of his sons to determine who could create the most delicious dish to be offered to the ancestors at the altar. The reward for first place was the throne to the land. Legend had it that the bÃ¡nh chÆ°ng was created by the king’s poorest son who had no money to buy expensive ingredients like his brothers did. Instead, he wrapped the common ingredients of pork and mungbean inside rice flour, in the shape of a green-leafed square to represent the earth…
The bÃ¡nh chÆ°ng was accompanied by the bÃ¡nh giÃ y, a plain cake of glutinous flour in a round shape to represent the sky. King HÃ¹ng VÆ°Æ¡ng was so moved by the delicious concoction made of simple, every day ingredients, presented in way so respectful of the universe and ancestors that he deemed this dish a national dish, and our pauper prince Lang LiÃªu won the throne.
So to this day, the bÃ¡nh chÆ°ng is associated with Táº¿t and you will find it on most if not all Vietnamese altars and dining tables. But these days you can buy it year-round at Vietnamese stores. For a few Vietnamese churches and temples it is a big fundraising event around the lunar new year. At my parents’ church in Texas earlier this month (where these pictures were taken) I was lucky enough to volunteer a few hours one afternoon with the parishioners whose assembly line has been perfected after all these years. In a meeting room, tables are set up as stations. Volunteers are assigned to cutting leaves, cleaning leaves, preparing the ingredients, forming the cakes, wrapping the cakes, and tying the wrapped cakes. As a newbie I was only allowed to clean the leaves but next time, I’ve got my eye on building the cake inside the bamboo molds.
Their bÃ¡nh chÆ°ng has been (mail) ordered by families around the country and even shipped across the continents to sons and daughters serving in Iraq and unable to celebrate Táº¿t at home. I didn’t go through the proper channels to get permission this time so I can’t identify this church. But next year I will so that I can plug them a little bit more here…not that they need my help. Their wait list is a mile long.
The bÃ¡nh chÆ°ng is literally cooked to death for 14 hours, and if you are lucky enough to eat it fresh, steaming warm, then it’s moist and sticky to the taste. You can freeze the leftover and re-steam it after a year without losing any flavor. But my favorite way is to flatten then pan-fry it till it is crispy:
My mom has special ordered a vegetarian one for me and I’ll get that in a couple of weeks when she comes out here. My mouth is already watering thinking about it. There is a cool way to open this cake and I’ll blog about it later.
At the risk of identifying a few faces here, I thought I’d post this video showing the last step of tying the bÃ¡nh chÆ°ng so you can get a glimpse of this wonderful tradition:
Happy New Year everyone!