Banh Chung For The Vietnamese Lunar New Year

Chuc mung nam moi! Happy New Year!

Today is Tet, the Lunar New Year as it is known in Vietnam, and the Year of the Dragon starts in the lunar calendar. And since I work with several Vietnamese people that love to feed me treats, I was provided with the traditional banh chung or steamed cake that is an integral part of the Vietnamese New Year family altar.

Banh chung stems from an old legend that tells that King Hung, many thousand years ago, felt himself getting farther from the sky and closer to the earth and decided to chose his heir from his twenty-two sons by challenging them to create a delicacy for him that would honor their ancestors and show their qualities in time for Tet, the lunar New Year. His sons traveled everywhere to find rare specialties and bring them to their father, only Prince Lieu, the eighteenth son, who has lost his mother at a young age, stayed at home. A goddess appeared to the Prince in his dreams and spoke to him about two cakes, banh chung and banh day. Banh chung was to represent the earth, to which all men must return, and therefore was to be wrapped in green banana leaves and be a square, as the world was. Within the rice should be meat and beans to represent all creatures of the earth. Banh day was to represent the sky from which men came, and therefore be round and long, just as the sky was shaped, and of pure white rice. When Lieu awoke, he created both cakes and on Tet, offered them to his father along with the delicacies from far and wide that his brothers had brought home. King Hung was pleased with the flavor and the symbolism of the cakes prepared from such simple ingredients, and awarded the throne to Prince Lieu. Since then, banh chung has been an integral part of the Vietnamese New Year and is made each year in a perfect square from glutinous rice filled with pork and mung beans, wrapped in banana leaves and boiled for a long time.

I’ll share the recipe for this gorgeous rich, sticky and savory treat as my co-worker makes it with you. It’s very labor intensive, and some of the ingredients may not be easy to come by unless you have a good Asian market nearby, but it’s well worth the effort. A gorgeous treat!

- 200g glutinous rice
- 150g pork, shoulder or loin
- 50g dried mung beans
- 1.5 tbsp Vietnamese fish sauce
- 1.5 tbsp oil
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 tsp salt
- strong twine
- 2 large banana leaves
- 4 bamboo leaves
- aluminum foil
- frame or mold

Soak the rice covered in plenty of cold water overnight. This will lead to a doubling in volume, so make sure you have a large bowl. Also soak the mung beans overnight in cold water. Soak the bamboo leaves in water overnight as well.

2.  Drain rice, add salt and mix well, set aside. Drain bamboo leaves and pat dry.

3. Drain mung beans, set aside.

4. Cut the pork into small pieces, mix with black pepper and fish sauce and let marinate for one hour minimum before heating the oil and cooking the pork in it until nicely browned.

5. In a steamer, steam the mung beans for 10 to 15 minutes until they start to become soft. Mash into a paste.

6. Spread large squares of aluminum foil (double the size of the frame), top with bamboo leaves, then add the frame. In the frame (ideally 5x5inch square), lay down the banana leaves in a cross, shiny side up so that they can dye the rice while it cooks, then spread half the glutinous rice on the bottom. Then layer half the mung beans, the entire pork and the other half of the mung beans, and finally spread the remaining rice on top.

7. Wrap first one banana leaf tightly around the cake, then the other, then wrap the bamboo leaves around, making sure you seal the packet tightly so that no water can intrude. Tie several rounds of twine around the cake to make sure everything stays in place. The wrap the whole thing in aluminum foil and tie that with twine too.

8. Put the packet in a pot, cover with water and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and simmer for 6 to 7 hours. If the cake floats in the beginning, keep it submerged with a ceramic plate.

9. Remove the aluminum foil so that the leaves can dry. Then enjoy on Tet by cutting into eight triangle servings with a very, very sharp knife.

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37 Responses to Banh Chung For The Vietnamese Lunar New Year

  1. You always feature the most interesting dishes! And I always learn something, too :)

  2. Tes says:

    I love Banh Chung :) I have never tried making it at home though. I love this recipe, it make look simple enough to try. I think the most challenging part must be folding it.

  3. Suzi says:

    You do come up with some very interesting recipes. I don’t eat pork but this definitely looks like a cool treat. I could probably replace the pork with something else. Great legend tale as well.

  4. PolaM says:

    What an interesting “cake”. It must be an intriguing combination of flavors.

  5. Its not only known in Vietnam but also throughout Asian countries. By the way, I will be there in Vietnam at the beginning of Feb, so I will bring you live coverage of this recipe and how its done there.

  6. Katie says:

    I would looove to try this, but I’m not sure I have the patience for it! Does it ship well? Haha. :)

  7. Wow! How unique. Lucky you that you get to give this a try. And you’re right, I’m not sure that I could find all of the ingredients and a ticket to Vietnam is way to pricey at the moment ;P

  8. Liz says:

    Love the story that goes along with this treat :)

  9. I enjoyed the history behind this recipe. Probably not something I will attempt to make but I loved learning about it.

  10. Kim Bee says:

    I love the story along with the food. You rock my world with things I have never seen or heard of. Love it.

  11. Ramona says:

    What a great dish to celebrate the Lunar New Year!! I like that it is savory too. Well done. :)

  12. balvinder says:

    The story behind this unique cake is quite interesting. I live in an area with Asian markets all around.

  13. Happy new year! And what a scrumptious way to celebrate!

  14. Monet says:

    Now if only I could snap my fingers and have one of these on my desk. I’m too tired to move, but this looks oh-so-good. Happy Lunar New Year! Thanks for making me smile with this delicious eat. I’m sipping on mint tea, and I’m hoping to get to bed early tonight. I’m already ready for Friday!

  15. Ann says:

    Fantastic! I LOVE the history behind this dish – and it was beautifully told….thanks!

  16. ping says:

    They have this for the Lunar New Year? How interesting. We have similar ones but at a different time of the year … sometime mid year, I think, with a variety of shapes and filling coming from the different regions, even dessert ones.

    • Kiri W. says:

      I know of zong zi, which I had plenty of for the dragon boat festival in June when I was in China. They’re quite different, but just as tasty. Banh chung is only at New Year, though.

  17. missymaki says:

    are you kidding? This is awesome! You are so patient and do the most amazing things. LOVE your blog :-)

  18. How different! This is so interesting and looks tempting :) I may have to try this!

  19. I envy you as I really miss lunar new year in Indonesia. Thou, my family don’t celebrate it at least we got the goodies from my neighbour and official public holiday :)

    • Kiri W. says:

      I’m so lucky to have generous coworkers willing to share their celebrations with me :)
      i think they always miss home and family most around the lunar new year, and i can’t blame them – I’m the same way around our new year when I just want to be home in Germany. :) What are Indonesian traditions for this holiday?

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