For Vietnamese people, banh chung is an indispensable part of every New Year. Without this dish, the traditional Tet holiday will not be complete. If you are having a Vietnam travel journey near the traditional lunar new year, you will have a chance to see the cozy atmosphere of families gathering together to make chung cakes.
1. The history of Banh Chung that you should know
According to legend, 3000 – 4000 years ago, the 6th Hung King held a food making contest to look for a new King. The 18th prince, Lang Lieu, made two cakes, one round and one square, which respectively symbolized the sky and the earth. He was chosen to be the new King, as the cakes he made were both meaningful and delectable. Since then, Vietnamese people always make banh chung for the Lunar New Year.
Chung cake has so far been recognized as the most well-known traditional Vietnamese food during Tet. The legend above also conveys a message that Vietnamese people must preserve traditional customs relating to rice making. Banh chung is a popular dish throughout all three regions of Vietnam, as its common ingredients suit everyone’s taste.
2. Banh Chung ingredients: What brings it unique flavor?
It takes a few days to make a banh chung, but it will be so worth it in the end. You will need phrynium leaves, high-quality glutinous rice, mung beans, pork belly, salt, and a lot of freshly crushed black pepper. Some people may prefer pork shoulder but pork belly is more popular in general. Because pork belly contains both lean meat and fat, the fillings of chung cake will not become dry after long hours of cooking.
The overall process to make Vietnamese rice cakes includes 3 stages:
- Stage 1: Preparing the ingredients
The sticky rice and mung beans need to be soaked in plenty of water overnight, which will be steamed afterward. Traditionally, Banh Chung is wrapped in phrynium leaves (la dong). The leaves give chung cake’s texture a bright green color. If phrynium leaves are not available, banana leaves can be used instead. Wash the leaves and pat them dry right before wrapping the cake.
- Stage 2: Wrapping the chung cake
Making a perfectly square chung cake requires lots of hard work and dedication. The locals often use a wooden mold to make this stage easier. They lay the phrynium/banana leaves out on the mold, then start putting the ingredients in, starting with one layer of sticky rice followed by cooked mung beans and pork belly. Then, another layer of mung beans is added, then a final layer of sticky rice on top. After that, they simply fold the leaves to form a square and tie bamboo strings around it.
- Stage 3: Cooking the banh chung
Vietnamese people generally put several chung cakes in a huge pot. They fill the pot with water and boil it for 10-12 hours over wood fire, depending on the number of cakes they put in. After that, the cakes need to be pressed hard under heavy objects for some hours to remove excess water.
3. How to eat Banh Chung?
After the excess water is removed from the cake, you can peel off the leaves and enjoy it immediately by cutting it into four or eight pieces. Banh chung can be served with or without Vietnamese pork sausage (cha lua) and soy sauce. In the central region of Vietnam, people like eating this dish with vegetable pickles.
You can also fry the cake to make banh chung chien (fried chung cake) which is a real treat in the cold weather of February in Vietnam. In some regions, particularly in the southern part of Vietnam, chung cakes can be wrapped in a cylindrical shape with the same ingredients, called banh tet. Another version of banh tet is banh tay or banh chung dai (long chung cake) which is only served in the north with mung beans and little to no pork, therefore can be stored for a longer period of time. There are also many other variations of banh chung in each region, such as banh chung gu, banh chung chay (vegetarian chung cake), banh chung ngot (sweetened chung cake), etc.
4. What is Banh Chung price? Where to buy Banh Chung?
Depending on the size and type, banh chung prices can vary. A normal chung cake of average size is usually sold at 20,000 – 50,000 VND. You can easily find these chung cakes at any traditional market, supermarket, shopping mall, grocery store, or even online platforms.
Meanwhile, fancier variations have slightly higher prices. For example, banh chung Tu Le (of which ingredients come from Tu Le commune, Yen Bai province) is often sold at 80,000 – 130,000 VND. A vegetarian chung cake often goes for 50,000 – 70,000 VND. Sometimes, people use plant-based ingredients such as sweet gourd to make colorful chung cakes, which can sell for 60,000 – 130,000 VND.
Banh chung is a must-have food when the lunar new year comes in Vietnam. Therefore, you can find it wherever you go, such as Hanoi, Hoi An, Nha Trang, Phu Quoc, Ho Chi Minh City, etc. Your Tet holiday would be more wonderful if you enjoy it at the world-class recreation and resort system of Vinpearl, including: VinWonders Phu Quoc, VinWonders Nha Trang, VinWonders Nam Hoi An, Vinpearl Aquarium and VinKE.
Chung cake is undoubtedly a symbol of Vietnamese cuisine. As an indispensable part of Tet holiday, banh chung carries the historical, cultural, and aesthetic values of the S-shaped country.