Tết Nguyên Đán is the Vietnamese Lunar NewYear, also known as Tết, and translated means the Feast of the First Morning. The lunisolar calendar determines the beginning of the new year in many countries and cultures including those in China, Korea and Vietnam. At Boise’s local Orient Market, supplies for Tết started arriving a few weeks ago, as Tết is the biggest holiday.
One of the items you may have seen at the local market is the gorgeously packaged bánh chung which is pictured below packaged with New Year card and ribbon for traditional decorative display.
Another version is a long, cylindrical bánh that is also wrapped in banana leaves, but is called the bánh tet chuối. This post will tell you about both of them.
Both types of bánh are eaten traditionally during the New Year. During this holiday it is traditional to return to celebrate with family, clean your house, and also celebrate with these special foods. Both the bánh tet and the báhn chung are wrapped in Dong leaves, or banana leaves. The ones at Orient Market are wrapped with banana leaves and tightly held together with ribbon or string.
Once untied, you must unwrap the banana leaves which gave the inside food flavor and will make the rice layer green.
Inside the banh chung you will find traditional and delicious sticky rice, pressed. In the middle is a layer of sweet roasted pork which is flavored with black pepper and a unique, savory spice I couldn’t quite name (but was addictively awesome, and give me time, i might figure it out yet) and a layer of sweet mung bean paste. The rice presses together and becomes glutinous. The pork is held together in the middle, and the flavor is just perfectly wedded with the sweet mung bean paste. Wow, what a combination!
Traditionally the banh is served by just slicing it, but you can also, like we did, slice it and lightly fry it on a skillet.
Putting in just a tablespoon of oil will do the trick.
While I wouldn’t add any spices on the banh chung, if my bánh tet has only mung bean paste I would dip it into a chili garlic or chili fish sauce. Bánh tet is cylindrical and will have significanly less pork inside, and may even be completely pork free. Some say that being vegetarian for the New Year is good luck.
The process of making these from scratch is time consuming and preparations take hours. I find it impressive that someone at Orient Market prepares these inexpensively for public consumption. I noticed that they were almost completely gone when I went to check out, though they get restocked often.
There are many varieties of the banh made for this holiday, and the bánh tet chuối includes the azuki bean red bean paste as well.
What I really like about this is that it’s a meal unto itself. The rice and meat and produce are all included and one only needs to slice it and fry it to have a meal. And there are many meals in each one of these tasty rolls.
Although this banh list is not completely comprehensive, I enjoyed using it because it does mention so many different kinds of banh and I think you might be interested also: http://dina-n-brian.com/Alice/Banhguide.htm
Now you can pick up your own and enjoy them!
If you are so inclined, I fully approve of this recipe: http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2009/01/banh-chung-recipe-lunar-new-years-rice-cakes-vietnamese.html