Origin and Meaning of Square Glutinous Rice Cake and Glutinous Rice Dumpling

The square glutinous rice cake and glutinous rice dumpling (also known as banh chung and banh giay) are kinds of famous traditional Vietnamese cakes. They are usually used to offer the sky and earth (According to ancient East Asian people, the sky and earth are also God and Holy Mother) and ancestors on the Lunar New Year, and to offer King Hung on King Hung’s death anniversaries. They are considered as one of the symbols of the Vietnamese Lunar New Year (also known as Tet Holiday or Tet).


Banh chung is square-shaped, an edge of about 14cm and a thickness of about 4cm, wrapped with green phrynium leaves, the inside is glutinous rice covering pork and green beans.

Origin and Meaning of Square Glutinous Rice Cake and Glutinous Rice Dumpling


Banh giay is made of glutinous rice, and the upper surface is arch-shaped, small and fits in the palm, usually eaten with cha lua (It is the most common type of sausage in Vietnamese cuisine, made of pork and traditionally wrapped in banana leaves.)

Origin and Meaning of Square Glutinous Rice Cake and Glutinous Rice Dumpling


No one in Vietnam does not know about the legend of banh chung and banh giay. Legend told that the Sixth King Hung wanted to find a successor, called the princes back and said, “I want to pass the throne to anyone who pleases me, look for or make the strangest, the most delicious, the most meaningful food, bring to offer the ancestor, I will hand over the throne.” The princes raced to look for strange and delicious food everywhere. Only the 18th Prince, Lang Lieu, because his mother died early, nobody helps so he did not know how to do.

One day Lang Lieu dreamed that a deity came and said, “Son, nothing in the sky and earth is as precious as a grain of rice, because rice is the food that feeds human beings. You should use glutinous rice to make round cakes and square cakes in order to symbolize the sky and earth. Put pork, green beans in the inside of round cakes, take green phrynium leaves to wrap them in order to symbolize the protection of parents to their children.

When Lang Lieu offered the cakes, King Hung was very satisfied, so he decided to hand over the throne to Lang Lieu. The king named the square cakes as banh chung, the round cakes as banh giay. Since then, on the Vietnamese Lunar New Year and King Hung’s death anniversaries, there have been always banh chung and banh giay on the offering trays.


The ancient East Asian people believed that the ground was flat and square and the sky was arch-shaped like a bowl facing down. The sky and earth give birth to all things including human beings. Therefore, people must respect and be grateful to the sky and earth. The ancient East Asian people compared the favor of their parents like the sky and earth. Children had to respect and supported their parents, grandparents, and ancestors. Banh chung was square-shaped symbolizing the earth, banh giay was arch-shaped symbolizing the sky. The two types of cakes contain the worldview and outlook on life of the ancient East Asian people. Although science today shows that the earth’s surface is not flat, not square, and the sky is not arch-shaped like the view of the ancient East Asian people, appreciation of the natural environment, parents, grandparents, and ancestors remains true.

Read more about Banh tet – Vietnamese traditional cake

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