Banh Chung: a traditional food in Vietnam

Banh Chung is one of the indispensable traditional food to welcome Vietnamese Lunar New Year, bringing the meaning of reunion and harmony.

During the three days of Tet, beautiful Banh Chung with the square shape and green leaves is chosen carefully to present to the ancestor’s altar, which is a beautiful habit in Vietnamese culture for a long time.

banh chung
Banh Chung. ©Son Tung Tran/pexels

However, the way of wrapping Banh Chung is quite difficult, so not everyone can pack the perfect Banh Chung.

In this article, Vietnamdrive will introduce you to details of history, meaning, and how to make a correct Banh Chung.

The origin of Banh Chung on Tet

Banh Chung Tet
Banh Chung Tet | @quangip

Every Tet comes, Vietnamese people often look forward to the day of reuniting with relatives, family, together with wrapping Banh Chung, forming delicious traditional dishes presented to the ancestor altar. But in today’s modern society, not everyone understands the origin of this particular custom.

An old legend has it that, when the sixth King Hung Vuong was old and weak, he wanted to find a successor to succeed his solstice but had up to 20 sons. The king decreed, and during the worshipping of King ceremony in the lunar new year, whoever made him happy would confer the throne.

All sons were eager to send people looking for delicious and strange things to offer to the king, only Lang Lieu was saddest. Lang Lieu is the eighteenth child who used to farming, so there is nothing in the house but rice, corn, and sweet potatoes. So, he did not know to find valuable products to offer to his father on the worshipping day.

After a dreamy night, he selected the best sticky rice in the house to make two kinds of cakes, one with a square shape and the other with a round shape. When the worshipping day came, his father saw and felt very satisfied with Lang Lieu’s offerings. The king named the square cake the Banh Chung representing the earth, and the round cake the Banh Giay representing heaven.

The king chose the cakes of Lang Lieu to sacrifice heaven, earth, and the former king, then passed the throne to Lang Lieu.

And since then, on the Tet holiday, the king ordered people to make these two types of cakes to present to the ancestors, and wish them support bring favorable crops for a new year. Gradually, making Banh Chung and Banh Giay on Tet has become a typical cultural feature in the traditional occasion of the Vietnamese people.

Banh Chung Meaning

wrap banh chung
People come together to wrap Banh Chung | @tom.tom.top

Banh Chung and also Banh Giay cakes are not only typical dishes for the Traditional New Year but also contain profound meanings, expressing the worldview and human life of an ancient wet rice civilization. 

According to the Vietnamese ancestors’ conception, Banh Giay and Banh Chung represent “round sky and square land”.

The appearance of Banh Chung and Banh Giay on the Lunar New Year is a way for Vietnamese farmers to express their gratitude to heaven and earth for the good crops, bringing a full good life for people.

Also, making these cakes show the ethic of “when drinking water, remember its source”, expressing the filial piety of the child to his parents. The custom of using Banh Chung and Banh Giay as gifts to ancestors on Tet has also become a nice habit of the Vietnamese.

The Banh Chung, which is made from glutinous rice, green bean paste, pork, onion…, are all traditional ingredients of Vietnamese cooking. Glutinous rice, mung bean, onion… symbolize the plants and pork presents the pig and animals that live on the earth.

When making Banh Chung, most people of the family come together. Each member does one part of the work, supporting to finish the best cakes. So, this thing makes the members become re-union more and understand more, creating warm feelings for the family.

The custom of using Banh Chung and Banh Giay as gifts to ancestors on Tet has also become a typical cultural feature of the Vietnamese.

>> You may want to see the meaning of Li Xi custom.

How to make a perfect Banh Chung

Perhaps Banh Chung is a traditional, familiar dish, associated with most Vietnamese. Join us to make this cake to learn more about traditional food in Vietnam.

Ingredients for making Banh Chung for five cakes

  • Sticky rice: 650 gram
  • Mung beans without shell 400 gram
  • Bacon 300 gram
  • Peper, shallot, salt, and seasoning powder
  • Dong leaves or banana leaves to wrap the cake.

How to prepare Banh Chung

Time needed: 8 hours and 30 minutes.

Banh Chung needs the preparation around 1 hour 30 minutes, and cooking duration is 6-7 hours. Actually, you also need 6 – 8 hours to soak the sticky rice in advance.

  1. Prepare

    Before making Banh Chung, you will have to soak the sticky rice first. Ideally, you should dip the rice overnight, or at least 6 hours.

    You should also soak sticky rice with pandan leaves (also called fragrant pineapple leaves) to make the sticky green color, also helping to make the sticky rice more fragrant.

    The unshelled mung beans should also be soaked for 3-4 hours.
    prepare to make banh chung
    (Prepare to make Banh Chung | @hg.vu)

  2. Preliminary process

    After soaking the sticky rice, pour it into the basket and let it dry. Then, add 1/3 teaspoons of salt and mix the rice with your hands.

    The same is for mung beans. You pour them out, drain them and mix with ¼ teaspoon of salt and pepper.

    Next, you marinate meat with 1/3 teaspoon of salt, pepper, shallot, and sugar.
    making banh chung
    (Making Banh Chung | @lucys.studio)

  3. Wrap Banh Chung

    To make Banh Chung square and more beautiful, you should prepare yourself a square frame to make a mold with around 10 cm on each side.

    Next, you arrange 4 leaves of Dong leaves into the mold carefully when these can fix the frame.

    Then, pour the sticky rice into these leaves with the quantity of ½ of the mold.

    You spread the rice evenly at the four corners of the mold and let the concave in the middle.

    Put the mung beans in, then the meat on, and the mung beans again. Next, you spread the sticky rice over it.

    You have to try to get the same amount of sticky rice and mung beans above and below.

    Finally, you wrap the cake and tie it up with a string. You should also remember not to tie too tightly because when cooking it, sticky rice will expand, making the cake bigger.Wrapping Banh Chung
    (Wrapping Banh Chung | @mslindadoan)

  4. Boil Banh Chung

    Place the cake in a large pot and cover it with water. It takes us about 6 hours to boil a small cake, and with a big one, it will take longer.

    You also need to prepare boiling water so that when the water in the large pot is lower, you have to add it more in time.

    When the cakes have been boiled for half the time, return them and replace the water with a new cool one. By doing that, the cake will not be raw and avoid being not evenly cooked.

    After Banh Chung is cooked well, you take them out and put them in a pot of cold water to soak for 20 minutes.

    Then drain the cake and use a slightly heavy object to apply pressure to the cake to squeeze the water out, to prevent the Banh Chung too soft, and they can last longer. Pressing within 4 hours is fine.
    cooking banh chung
    (Boiling Banh Chung | @_me_to_fantasy)

  5. Finished products

    Once cooking is complete, you can store Banh Chung in a cool place. The good ones can last for 5 – 7 days.

    When you want to eat a warm Banh Chung, you just put it in the microwave!

    Before tasting it, you need to cut Banh Chung into small pieces so that the eaters can enjoy it easily.
    Banh Chung Vietnam
    (Vietnamese Banh Chung in Tet | @isabellannhi

Notes:

During the cooking time, you need to pay attention to the following to make the cakes delicious and not be deformed or crumbled.

  • Before placing Banh Chung in the pot, you need to place a bamboo frame as a layer underneath so that the cakes won’t burn and stick to the bottom of the pot.
  • Put the cakes into layers stacked neatly and tightly so that the cakes are kept fixed, in case the boiling water has a force that causes the cakes to be pushed, they will break.
  • When the water has been boiled, you need to reduce the heat (for a charcoal cooker, a wood stove) or lower the temperature (for an electric cooker). Only let the fire simmer during the whole cooking process.
  • Always notice the level of water in the pot to avoid draining. When the water goes down, you need to add more boil water again to cover all of Banh Chung so that they can be cooked well.

Banh Chung is a traditional food in Vietnam during the Lunar New Year with a typical flavor. Making Banh Chung and tasting it will be a good way to understand more about Vietnamese culture.

With its meaning of harmony and reunion, the cake always takes important roles in the special occasions of the Vietnamese people.

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    About the author

    The editorial staff of Vietnamdrive is a team of travel experts managed by Mr. Thom who has worked in tourism for 14 years. Trusted by thousands of tourists from all over the world.