January 22, 2010

Goi Banh Tet, Banh Chung: Tet Rice Cakes

Tet Nguyen Dan (Lunar New Year in Viet Nam) is fast approaching... It will fall on Valentine's Day, Feb. 14th, 2010, so it feels especially auspicious. All new year celebrations include feasting, and that means banh tet and banh chung! Yummy... So, here are some photos to entice you. They are made by my lovely parents, and I am pleased to find out that a huge box has been FedEx'ed to me overnight so that I, too, can enjoy the delicious sticky rice cakes... TONIGHT!!!

And, just so you know, you can eat them as is, or, slice them very thinly and fry them 'til crispy. Serve while crispy & hot with spicy chili sauce (Sriracha is best), pickled garlic and cu kieu. I promise, they are the most delicious foods you will ever eat for Tet!

Traditionally, banh tet and banh chung are wrapped in banana leaves. If you wipe them down with a cloth and warm water, that should do the trick. But, I just heard recently that you might want to soak the leaves in water, instead, and then wipe them dry before packing in the rice and fillings.

Banh tet and banh chung can be sweet or savory. I LOVE both. For a sweet filling, you can add bananas. For savory, you can add pork and mung beans.

Whenever given the option, I would not choose beans with my rice dishes. However, in banh tet and banh chung, you MUST have beans. It is no exception. The rice cakes would not taste the same without them -- sweet or savory.

Here are the rice cakes, wrapped and ready for cooking. The banana leaves are on the inside, followed by several other layers, and the final layer is tinfoil, tied together with red strings for luck. I love seeing all these lines and curves of the fat and full cakes, along with the color contrasts -- all laid out for us to enjoy visually before we partake of them!

Note that round, log-like rice cakes are called "banh tet" (and the word "tet" is used here differently than "Tet"*) and the the square shaped cakes are called "banh chung".

*The word "tet" as used in "banh tet" has different diacritics from, and therefore is pronounced differently than, the word "tet" in "Tet Nguyen Dan". When referring to rice cakes, spell "tet" with an accent aigu above the "e". For example: T E ' T. When referring to the festival, Tet, then spell it with an accent circonflexe and an accent aigu above the "e". For example: T E ^ ' T.

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