These Vietnamese Rice Cakes are traditional for the Lunar New Year. This is the cake made in Vietnam food culture since a very long time ago. According to the old legends, Bánh Chưng appeared on the Hung dynasty. This cake symbolizes the ground expressing gratitude to the ancestors and the earth, sky. Besides, it emphasizes the important role of rice and nature in water rice culture. In contrast to the fast food in modern life, the process of making Bánh Chưng is time consuming and requires the contribution of several people. Family members often take turns to keep a watch on the fire overnight, telling each other stories about Tet of past years.
Tet is the Lunar New Year for Vietnam and falls on the same day as the Chinese New Year. For the Vietnamese, Tet is like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve all rolled up in one. It is a time to return home to families and celebrate the upcoming new year.
In the days leading up to Tet, each family cooks special holiday foods such as Bánh Chưng. Preparations for these foods are quite extensive.
Tet Nguyen Dan or Tet is the most important and popular holiday and festival in Vietnam. It is the Vietnamese New Year marking the arrival of spring based on the Lunar calendar, a lunisolar calendar. The name Tet Nguyen Dan is Sino-Vietnamese for Feast of the very First Morning.
Tet takes place from the first day of the first month of the Lunar calendar (around late January or early February) until at least the third day. Many Vietnamese prepare for Tet by cooking special holiday foods and cleaning their house. There are a lot of customs practiced during Tet such as visiting a person’s house on the first day of the new year (xông nhà), ancestral worship, wishing New Year’s greetings, giving lucky money to children and elderly people.
- 5 1/2 cups glutinous rice
- 1 1/2 cups split yellow mung beans
- 2 pounds fresh or frozen banana leaves
- 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons peanut oil
Place the rice in a large bowl, cover with water, and let soak overnight. Place the mung beans in a separate bowl, cover with water, and let soak overnight. If using frozen banana leaves, defrost them in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, drain both the rice and mung beans.
Place the mung beans in a pot with just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until mashable, about 20-30 minutes. Mash into a paste with a potato masher or spoon.
Meanwhile, heat the peanut oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat and cook the onions until caramelized, about 30-40 minutes.
Add the onions and salt to the mung beans and stir to combine. Spread the mung beans out on a large platter or baking sheet and let cool completely.
Wipe the banana leaves clean with a damp cloth and spread them out to dry. (A laundry drying rack works well; you can also use the backs of chairs.) If the banana leaves are particularly long, you can trim them.
To assemble, lay out two sheets of partially overlapping banana leaves, place a third leaf on top (perpendicular to the first two sheets), and a fourth leaf on top of that (perpendicular to the third sheet). (If using a mold, place it on your work surface first, then line it with the banana leaves in this manner.) Place about a cup of rice in the center of the leaves and spread out to cover a 6-inch square area (about 9 cm), (or to fill the mold). Take about a cup of mung beans and, using your hands, pat it into a slightly smaller square and place it on top of the rice. Then take another cup or so of rice and pack it over the top and sides. Starting with the innermost banana leaf, fold the leaves in one at a time, forming a square. Wrap it tightly like a present so that the contents don’t shift or spill during cooking, and tie tightly with twine.
Bring a large stockpot of water to a boil. Add the cakes and make sure they stay submerged (a colander or heavy steamer basket can help keep them under water). If your pot isn’t large enough, you may need to use more than one. Simmer until the cakes feel plump and the rice is congealed, about 6 hours. Keep an eye on the pot and add more hot water as necessary to keeps the cakes covered.
Place the cakes in a colander to drain and cool completely.
To serve, remove the wrapping and cut into wedges or slices. Bánh chưng are often eaten with pickled onions or root vegetables, or dipped in sugar for a sweet treat. They can also be sliced, pan fried until golden, and served with sugar. They can also be sliced and dipped in Nuoc Cham Sauce.
Refrigerate for up to 1 week.
To make this dish in the traditional Vietnamese way I studied for a long time videos I could find with old people making them in the villages in Vietnam. I did want to make it the authentic way. I do not have pots and open fire outside, but except from that I wanted it to be as authentic as possible. To find ingredients was hard here in Stockholm when I first started making Vietnamese dishes. Especially banana leaves. However now I know every Asien Market in my area.