There are many festivals in Vietnam right around the year but arguably the most important to the locals is the New Year Holiday, known as Tet, which is determined by the lunar calendar. The holiday is over three days, the first three in the first month of the lunar calendar. Everyone tries to return to the family home for Tet and its celebration has changed little over the generations.
Vietnam is a fertile country and as you travel around on your Vietnam travel package, you are likely to see farmers working in the fields. Rice is the main crop but there are many more, fruits and vegetables while villages tend to keep livestock as well. Rice has a particular significance and one of Vietnam’s popular legends involves that same rice.
Many years ago, while several of Emperor Hung Vuong’s sons followed careers in literature or enjoyed the martial arts, his youngest, Tiet Lieu preferred life as a farmer so he and his wife lived in the countryside. The Emperor had to decide who succeeded him and challenged each of his sons to bring him the best food, something a little bit special. Most either sought wildlife in the forests or fish in the sea. Tiet Lieu returned to the fields and smelt the aroma of rice ready to harvest.
The family harvested that rice and Tiet Lieu ground it into flour from which his wife made a paste. The paste was wrapped in banana leaves, one being circular and the other square.
He called the round cake, ‘’Banh Day’’ and the square one ‘’Banh Chung’’.
When all the princes returned to their father on the first day of Spring, they presented their food. One had steamed fish and mushrooms, another roast peacock and lobsters. All the food was most appetising, obviously with ingredients that the ordinary people would not be able to afford.
Tiet Lieu and his wife presented the cakes with his brothers looking on; they sneered at the simplicity of the offering. However, Hung Vuong chose his youngest son’s cakes above all else because of their purity and meaning. Rice after all was the basic food of all Vietnamese. He abdicated in favour of Tiet Lieu and his brothers acknowledged the decision.
These rice cakes are extremely popular in Vietnam today and you should certainly sample them during your Vietnam holiday.
• Banh Day is always served at festivals and ceremonies; often the family makes them themselves though in the cities, people often buy them ready-made.
• Banh Chung is for New Year (Tet). Bean paste is the filling inside the rice cake while small pieces of pork may be added as well.
Tet is regarded as a new beginning each year, a time for optimism in Vietnam. If you are lucky enough to be in the Country at that time on a Vietnam tour, you will be able to observe the festivities andyou will certainly be offered Banh Chung.