‘’Banh Chung’’ to give it its proper name is a Vietnamese cake that is central to the celebration of Vietnamese New Year, Tet, and the Anniversary of Lang Lieu, the last Hung King, during the 10th Lunar Month. There is no better way to give thanks to ancestors and the nation than by offering Chung Cake.
Tourists who travel to Vietnam often do so because of their interest in the history and culture of this part of Indochina. Chung Cake certainly has history and it can clearly be thought of as part of the culture as well. It appears to be at least 3,000 years ago when it was first produced, a time when the people thought the Earth was flat. They made round cakes in those days to symbolise the sky but for the Earth, it had to be square.
Legend has it that a prince in the 6th Hung Dynasty who was to become the last king of that dynasty, Lang Lieu was the ‘’inventor’’ of the Chung Cake. It was his offering to his father who was seeking the best delicacy from each of his sons in order to decide who would succeed him. Others in the competition sought the rarest seafood or forest ‘’treats’’ but Lang Lieu was poor, the 18th son, and had not the means to be extravagant so he opted for everyday ingredients. He made both a square cake to represent the Earth and a round one for the Sky. He won the competition, became king and the Chung Cake became an important part of Tet, and of thanks to him from future generations.
How Is the Cake Made?
The main ingredient is good quality sticky rice. A square mould helps in making the cake while the bamboo and banana leaves are thoroughly washed before use. The rice is soaked the previous day and wrapped in a square shape, not too tightly, in those banana leaves along with pork, green beans, sometimes onions but always seasoning, tied with strips of the bamboo. It is then boiled over wood for 12 hours and the result is that the rice absorbs the green colour which at first sight to a tourist on a Vietnam travel package may look strange. It can be kept for some time and eaten cold with vegetable pickles. At Tet, many members of the family might join in to make the squares and wrap them up. After all, it takes time and the more ‘’hands’’ that are available, the better. Family is very important in Vietnam and this is an ideal opportunity to get together and prepare cakes.
It has to be said that some families, especially in the towns and cities, now buy their Chung Cake for Tet at a shop, rather than make it themselves. It is something that every household will still have for Tet, and it is certainly an offering that will be made at every altar in Vietnam. If you are lucky enough to be on holiday in Vietnam just before and during Tet, you are in for a treat.