Vietnamese Cylindrical Glutinous Rice Cake
Cylindrical glutinous rice cake or Banh Tet is one of traditional dishes in Central Vietnam and Southern Vietnam. It has been said Banh Tet appeared 800 years ago when the ancestors of Vietnamese people just went to break fresh ground toward south. Vietnamese people love to eat this food because it’s not only delicious but healthy. Symbolizing for reunion, this cake is a must food at Tet festival – the biggest festival in the country. Vietnamese cylindrical glutinous rice cake is the food offered to ancestors and a favorite present to relatives and friends on Tet days.
The cylinder shaped Banh Tet has many sizes: big, medium and small. The most common Banh Tet is medium sized, it has height of about 20 cm and wide of about 8 cm. Banh Tet is wrapped in 2 banana leaf layers so that it has special smell of banana leaf. The cake’s outside layer is made from glutinous rice, coconut milk and bean. The inside layer (filling) is usually made from banana or mung bean paste, pork belly… It takes about 4 hours to boil Banh Tet in a big pot over medium heat. After being cooked, ready cakes are hung up to make it dry. Banh Tet lasts 3 days and even a week at room temperature.
A pair of Banh Tet – Photo by Scooter Saigon Tour
To eat, Banh Tet is cut into circles which look very nice and attractive. Then dinners should remove the banana leaf wrapper and use chopsticks or forks to tuck in. The tender, sticky, greasy and light sweet glutinous rice layer blends in perfectly with tasty filling. An interesting thing is that many Vietnamese people love to use fingers to eat Banh Tet. They it this kind of traditional cake at any time of the day. There are some versions of Banh Tet which can be divided into 2 main groups: sweet Banh Tet and savory Banh Tet. The sweet Cylindrical Glutinous Rice Cakes could be eaten with sugar and savory ones are better to eat with high-quality fish sauce, cucumber, pickled scallion heads, vinegar-soaked onions.
In Mekong Delta, they usually cook Vietnamese cylindrical glutinous rice cake with banana (sweet cake) or mung bean paste and pork belly (savory cake). Some cooks prefer using black bean or black-eyed pea to make the outside layer less greasy. This kind of Banh Tet is popular in Tay Ninh province. Magenta plant juice is used to make outside layer purple and tastier, this kind of Cylindrical Glutinous Rice Cake is called Banh Tet La Cam which is popular in Can Tho city. Tra Vinh province is famous for Banh Tet Tra Cuon which outside layer is made from green sauropus juice. The filling is made from lean pork, pork fat and salted duck egg yolk. Banh Tet Tra Cuon is bigger and more expensive than other kinds of Banh Tet.
Banh Tet with banana looks beautiful with pink filling – Photo by Scooter Saigon Tour
Black bean is mixed with sticky rice to make the outside layer less greasy
Banh Tet filled with mung bean paste
In Ben Tre, there is a very beautiful kind of Banh Tet – Banh Tet Chu. The filling has letter shape. Only skillful, careful and experienced cook can make this kind of Banh Tet. One cake not only contains one letter but many letters which are used to create a meaningful phrase. After being cut a Banh Tet Chu, we have many circles with letters such as C, H, U, C, M, U, N, G, N, A, M, M, O, I creating the phrase “CHUC MUNG NAM MOI” that means HAPPY NEW YEAR in English. Mung bean paste is the best ingredient to make the filling of Banh Tet Chu because it is molded into letters more easily than others.
Circles of Banh Tet Chu create meaningful phrase “PHAT TAI” (RICHNESS), the outside layer is made with magenta leaf juice so that it has purple color. The cook must be experienced, careful, patient and skillful to make Banh Tet with letter-shaped filling – Photo source: unknown
On New Year’s Eve, every Vietnamese family cooked Banh Chung or Banh Tet. It is happy to stay up late to wait for Banh Tet being ready. The weather at Tet is rather cold, so that fire makes family members warmer. They sit around the fire and talk about everything in their life. Gathering to cook Banh Tet together is one of the most beautiful traditions in South Vietnam.
In opinion of Vietnamese people, no product is more precious than rice. Therefore, using the cake made from rice to offer Gods and ancestors shows the respect of Vietnamese people to them. Besides, people in Central Vietnam and South Vietnam use Banh Tet as a gift to relatives and friends. Vietnamese cylindrical glutinous rice cake are always offered or gifted in pairs.
Cylindrical Glutinous Rice Cake is the southern and central version of Square Glutinous Rice Cake in Northern Vietnam. This kind of traditional cake plays an important part in Vietnamese cuisine and culture. As a foreigner visiting Vietnam, do not miss trying this flavorful cake and learn more about local culture.
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