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How to Make Chung Cake for TET
How to Prepare Vietnamese TET Chung Cake
Making the Traditional Vietnamese TET Chung Cake
TET is coming and the excitement is in the air. Our hotel arranged for those interested, an afternoon of learning how to make Chung Cake or what the Vietnamese call Banh Chung, the special savoury eaten during this lunar new year celebration.
When we arrived, the demonstration has started but not really depriving us of seeing what needs to be done. The leaves called Dong are prepared into a square basket to hold sticky rice, pork, and mung bean paste. After the demonstration, we were each given bowls of rice, a plate of pork seasoned with pepper and bean paste in round balls.
Dong Leaves for your TET Chung Cake
Preparing the Ingredients for Chung Cake
We were then made to get our own leaves, cut these into the proper size to make the square basket. 4 leaves were needed for one basket and we helped each other hold it as one put rice, leveled it, then placed some mung bean paste (start with half of the ball) and a piece of pork in the middle. This is again covered with bean paste and then, sticky rice. Then, the basket is closed up and tied properly with the special bamboo ties placed underneath the leaves. These ties will be used to cut the cooked chung cake, usually into 8 pieces.
These were then placed in the pot with cold water topping the baskets. Lining the pot with those extra dong leaves is also a good idea. Then cook until the water boils and just keep adding water for about 4 hours. Others claim, as their families cook many cakes, that they cook these for 10-12 hours. This is necessary if you want it to stay alright for several days.
Each one came out proud and had a picture taken holding her own Chung cake.
What you Need to Prepare Chung Cake
What to prepare for making Chung Cake or Bang Chung:
- High Quality Glutinous Rice soaked in water for 12-14 hours
- Slices of pork, with bits of fat to make the rice more tasty, seasoned with pepper and salt. Some add onions and sugar.
- Mung bean paste made from beans soaked for 2 hours
- Dong leaves cleaned properly
- Giang bamboo strips which are ideal as these bamboos have long nodes. These are first soaked in salt water or steamed until they are ribbon like for easy wrapping.
- A square mold but not really necessary.
You can see in this picture, the demonstrator cutting the ends of the Dong leaves to make the square basket.
A Bowl of Glutinous Rice
Soaked Glutinous Rice
This is the bowl of glutinous rice already soaked for 12-14 hours. Glutinous Rice is different from the ordinary rice. It is sticky when cooked and usually prepared in Southeast Asia for special occasions.
Some Fat Please
Seasoned Slices of Pork
You can see in the picture the actual size of the sliced pork with bits of fat. Usually, these slices of port are seasoned with salt and pepper.
The Mung Bean Paste
Mung Bean Paste
Remember, the mung beans are soaked for about 2 hours, then a paste is made out of these soaked beans. To make the paste, steam or boil mung bean until soft. Add a pinch of salt. This may take about 45 minutes. Mash the cooked beans thoroughly and roll these into balls.
Filling up the Square Basket
Stuffing the basket
After cutting the narrow ends of the Dong leaves, arrange the leaves on top of the giang strings forming a square base.
Then, start stuffing in the square basket with glutinous rice, mung bean paste, layering these carefully. First, place the glutinous rice in the basket, then, the mung bean paste.
On top of this first layer, place the seasoned slices of pork at the centre. Cover this with another layer of rice and mung bean paste. Make sure the square is full at all sides.
Filling up the Square Basket
The Filled Square Basket Ready for the Final Wrap
Squaring the Chung Cake Basket
Without the square frame, it was a bit of a struggle but with our hands, we managed to wrap the Chung Cake. It was like wrapping a square gift but as this was our first try, the square was not perfect.
Making the Basket Square
Wrapping the Chung Cake
When wrapping the chung cake, the giang strings that were placed underneath the basket serve as ties. Because they had been soaked or steamed, they are like ribbons and are easy to handle.
It is easier if you have the square frame but it is not that difficult to hold the sides with your palms and tie the bamboo strips tightly. With some help, we managed as you can see in the picture.
These giang bamboo strips are then used to cut the cake. The Vietnamese usually cut Bahn Chung into 8 slices.
Tying the Squared Basket with Giant Strips
The Properly Wrapped Chung Cake Squared and Ready for Cooking
Cooking the Chung Cake
Place the prepared chung cake in the pot. You can see our prepared chung cake. They're great for the first try. Carefully arrange them ensuring that they are properly tied as you don't want them to spill over.
Add water filling the pot and start boiling for several hours. Stop boiling when you are sure the inside of the cake is fully cooked. The cake comes out green taking the color of the Dong leaves.
Cooking the Chung Cake Requires Hours of Boiling
Families Gather Waiting for the Chung Cake
Vietnamese families prepare for many visiting families and friends so many Chung Cake are cooked and these are boiled for many hours. Some say 10-12 hours. Others say less than that but once the charcoals are formed, Vietnamese immediately roast some sweet potatoes which now have also become part of the traditional TET food.
As the Chung Cake are cooked, families tell stories of previous TET celebrations and it is a bonding experience for families.
Arranging the Chung Cake in the Altar
The altar to worship the ancestors was already prepared and in this are placed, the kumquat tree full of fruits and lucky money, the dried fruits, the Chung cake, pomelo, pickled unripe green mango, and pickled onions. These are the condiments that usually accompany the Chung cake.
Chung Cake Tasting with Its Traditional Condiments
Why is Chung Cake the Center of the TET Offering?
Every child in Vietnam knows this story by heart. It is well documented in The Extraordinary Stories of Linh Nam, a book published in 1695. The story tells us about Lang Lieu, the person to be credited for the chung cake. After a victory over the Shang of China, Hung Vuong, the ruler at that time wanted to choose his successor from among his sons.
To do this, he decided to hold a competition in which each of his sons had to bring a delicacy to offer the ancestors at the TET altar. Whoever brought the most delicious and expressive of the honor due the ancestors would be the next ruler. The princes went off to find the top luxury food they could from the sea and the forest except for Lang Lieu.
Much poorer compared to his other brothers, this 18th prince, Lang Lieu, contented himself with preparing something from the ordinary ingredients of everyday food such as pork and rice. He tried until finally, he prepared a square cake called Banh Chung. Square for the Vietnamese is the form of the Earth.
Then, he created a round one, Banh Day. After tasting the cakes, the ruler was impressed and he considered the cakes the best offering to represent the tremendous respect for their ancestors. Lang Lieu became the ruler and since then, the rice cakes became the traditional offering for TET for the Vietnamese people.
For this year's TET, one of the hotel staff gave us 2 Chung Cakes prepared by his family which we enjoyed as we watched the TET fireworks.
Our Imperfect Cooked Chung Cake
Do You Know Something About TET New Year?
We are familiar with Chinese New Year but not really with TET, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year. But here in Vietnam, this is the top holiday of the year. For those of you who are interested in Vietnamese culture, get this book and learn a bit of this festival.
Weeks before, preparations are at fever pitch with employees taking a week off to help their families prepare.
Parties start early and will just keep until TET holidays. After that, families go on pilgrimage to the temples to get good luck for the year.
Have you eaten Chung Cake?
Enjoy Other Vietnamese TET Dishes
Other than Chung Cake, dishes are prepared for the family to enjoy. But Chung Cake is the one offered at the altar, served to families and other well wishers as well.
Vietnamese food really impresses me the more I get to know it. There is so much greens used in every meal. It is much more healthy.
Have you ever made Chung Cake?
How to Make Chung Cake Video
Here is a video of how to make Chung Cake for those who want to follow how it is actually made. You can give it a try and savour one of the tastiest dishes.
© 2013 Mary Norton