Banh chung is a savory rice cake heavy with history and heavier still with sticky rice. It’s traditionally eaten around Tet holiday, Vietnam’s Lunar New Year, and is known as the dish that brings families together. Making banh chung can be a laborious task, one which takes many hours and requires the help of several people. The story of banh chung is repeated each year during the making of the dish, bringing families together over this legendary tale.
The story goes that when King Hung Vuong had to pick his successor, he asked each of his 18 sons to prepare a dish worthy of an offering to the ancestors. The princes sourced the rarest and finest ingredients for their dishes, knowing that the best dish would procure the throne. The youngest son Lieu, however, lived a modest existence in the countryside and, inspired by a dream, invented a humble dish. Using rice, mung beans and pork, Lieu created a round cake to symbolize the sky and a square cake to symbolize the earth by wrapping the ingredients in leaves from the forest. The simple dish won him the throne and a place in Vietnam’s rich tradition.
Making Banh Chung is a challenging endeavour and can take the better part of a weekend. We don’t expect you to actually make it, but the recipe below will give you an idea of how much work goes into it, making it all the more delicious to eat. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how it’s made:
Gelatinous rice (soaked overnight)
Mung beans (soaked overnight)
Banana leaves (fresh or frozen)
Preparation for the night before:
- Soak the bamboo leaves in a large roasting pan, keeping them submerged with a plate or bowl.
- Soak the rice in water and let it sit overnight.
- Rinse the mung beans under cold water, then soak in cold water overnight.
Cooking for the day after:
Finely slice the onion and fry on a medium heat until caramelized. This will take around 30-40 minutes.
While the onions are frying, boil the mung beans in a pot with just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil then reduce to simmer, stirring occasionally for around 20-30 minutes until soft. Once they’ve reached a desirable consistency, mash to a paste and add 1tsp salt, 1tsp pepper and half the fried onion.
Season the soaked rice with 1tsp salt and the pork with ½ tsp salt, fish sauce, 1.5tsp pepper and the shallots.
Spread mashed mung beans onto saran wrap, adding a few pieces of pork, and wrap it into a square.
Lay two sheets of partially overlapping banana leaves and add a cup of rice into the centre. Place mung beans and pork on top of the rice and then cover with another cup. Fold tightly into a square, ensuring no content slips. Consider folding another banana leaf on top if you’re worried about it not being tight enough. Make sure no water penetrates into the cake when cooking.
Bring a large pot of water to the boil, adding the cakes and topping with a heavy object to make sure they stay submerged. Simmer for around 6-8 hours, adding more water as required. This is usually done overnight.
Once the cakes feels plump and the rice feels congealed, unwrap the cakes and cut into wedges to serve. Eat with pickled onions, pickled vegetables or fish sauce.
So, there you have it! Ready to make your own?