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Banh Chung – Square rice cake in Vietnamese Tet

2 Feb

Banh Chung (Square rice cake) is a traditional Vietnamese for lunar new year rice cake which is made from glutinous rice, mung bean, pork and other ingredients. Its origin is told by the legend of Lang Liêu

History and Legend

The origin of Banh Chung can be traced to Hong Bang Dynasty – when the 6th Hung Emperor ruled the land (read Vietnam Early History). Sadly thinking he was too old to lead the country, Hung Emperor wanted to find the one to inherit his position and sit on the throne. Therefore, he held a cooking contest for his 21 sons, and who could fully satisfy his taste would be the winner.

Vietnam Square Cake with the glossy green when they are taken off the steaming pot

Most princes set out on their journey to find special, exotic and far-fetched food, except for Lang Lieu – the 18th son of Hung King, also the poorest and loneliest since he lost his mother at a young age. Not having enough money to afford such delicacies, Lieu just stayed around his house.

Thanks to the help of a fairy in his dream, Lieu came up with 2 types of cake called ‘Banh Chung’ and ‘Banh Day’ and started baking exactly like what he had been told. On a spring day on which all the princes’ labor had to be presented, Lang Lieu and his wife brought Banh Chung and Banh Day to the emperor while other princes presented such expensive and unusual dishes.

Others sneered at Lieu’s cakes, but Hung Emperor was deeply impressed by the special flavor of these cakes. He asked Lieu about the meaning of these cakes. Lieu said that he had cooked the glutinous rice, then molded it into a round rice cake, and called it Banh Day as it symbolized the sky we live under; he also cooked a square rice cake, stuffed it with cooked bean paste and ground meat in the middle, and called it Banh Chung, which was symbolic of the earth we live on.

After that, Hung Emperor decided that Lieu was the winner and passed his throne to him. Since then, Banh Chung and Banh Day become traditional foods during the Tet holiday.

Banh Chung today

Banh Chung can be served as it is or fried to make ‘Banh Chung Ran’ – a delicious for such cold February in Vietnam. In some other regions, especially the Southern part of Vietnam, Banh Chung can be wrap in a cylindral shape with same ingredients, called ’Banh Tet’. A similar one to Banh Tet is ‘Banh Tay’ or ‘Banh Chung Dai’ (Long Banh Chung), served solely in the North with mung bean and little or no pork, hence, can be preserved for a longer period.

There are also many variations of Banh Chung according to regions, religions and likings such as Banh Chung Gu (Humped Banh Chung) of San Diu people, Banh Chung Chay (Vegetarian Banh Chung) for vegetarians and Buddhists, Banh Chung Ngot (Sweetened Banh Chung), etc.

  (Fried Chung Cake is a popular variation of Vietnamese Square Cake)

In traditional context, the process of making Banh Chung is an occasion for Vietnamese family members to get together. Sitting around the warm fire, talking and telling each other past stories, they get ready for a New Year with lots of good wishes.

Although nowadays, not many Vietnamese families keep this habit anymore, Banh Chung is still an irreplaceable dish of Vietnamese ancestor altar on the occasion of Tet. It is the evidence of the Vietnamese loyalty and great gratitude to their ancestors.

The importance of Banh Chung has already gone into poetry:

‘Thịt mỡ, dưa hành, câu đối đỏ
Cây nêu, tràng pháo bánh chưng xanh’

Translation:

‘Rich meats, Salty onions, red couplets
Nêu tree, firecracker, green banh chung’.

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5 best food to eat in Hoi An

19 Sep

Many people come to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hoi An for its well-preserved architecture. Walking around Hoi An, it’s easy to get lost in time and be shuttled back to an age when the river-front city was the largest harbor in all of Southeast Asia. It’s very easy to understand why Hoi An is such a top tourist destination in Vietnam.

I, however, came to Hoi An to eat. It just worked to my benefit that I had such lovely setting to do it!

There are a number of local delicacies specific to Hoi An that can draw a traveler to and persuade them to stick around Hoi An for awhile. I know because I fell in love with Hoi An’s specialties and ended up eating my way around town for almost two weeks (well, also because I was having clothes custom-made but more on that in a later post)!

Although many restaurants serve up all the usual Hoi An dishes for a few dollars a plate, heading to the street stalls is really where you’ll get the authentic taste and the local price!

Com Ga

Com ga is as ubiquitous in Hoi An as pho is in Saigon on so you’ll be able to find it on nearly every street corner. It’s a straightforward meal of seasoned rice and shredded chicken, served with a side of fresh onions, greens and mint leaves. Nothing about com ga will change your life but it certainly makes for a filling meal when you’re in the mood for something simple and fast. The tastiest spot I found was away from the city center, near my hotel on Hai Ba Trung at the family-run Cafe 619. I’ll let you in on a secret though, their com ga is good, but not half as good as their savory pork. Same meal, different meat, but trust me on the pork!

Cau Lau

Cau lau is a bowl of doughy flat noodles served with bean sprouts, green vegetables, slices of juicy pork and croutons. The secret to a good cau lau is said to come from the water from the Ban Le well in town. Whatever the secret ingredient may be, the taste is simply delicious! The best street cau lau can be found along the river, just outside the Citronella Restaurant near the old Japanese Bridge. They add sprigs of fresh mint into their bowl of cau lau, and it makes all the difference!

White Rose

With such a pretty name as White Rose, you can expect something as delicate and light as these steamed shrimp dumpling-like appetizers. Trust me, they’re small and you’ll need something more substantial for a full meal. In any case, no meal in Hoi An truly starts without a plate of White Rose on the table.

Fried Won Tons

Delicate and crispy fried won tons topped with fresh ingredients is another Hoi An specialty to help start a meal right. I’m typically not one to indulge in fried foods, but the fried won tons are light and tasty, not greasy and oily. With a number of toppings to choose from such as beef and duck, as well as vegetarian options, these friend won tons can win over anyone, no matter how picky an eater.

Dessert at Cargo

Perhaps the best surprise in all of Hoi An is the delightful bakery found at the wildly popular Cargo restaurant. The chocolate cheesecake literally changed my life! It’s rich, creamy and the milk chocolate topping is absolutely divine. So good that I had to have a slice three days in a row! In fact, every dessert I tried at Cargo was fabulous, including the cinnamon waffle served hot off the grill with a scoop of ice cream. Magnificent! An evening is not complete in Hoi An without a stop in Cargo for dessert and once you try one, you’ll find it hard to not keep going back.

If you are interested in exploring Vietnam travel you can visit Vietnam travel company, Halong cruise, Halong Bay, Halong tours site to know further attractive places.

 

Source: connvoyage.blogspot.com

The heat with Pho Cuon Hanoi

14 Sep

The summer in Hanoi is brutally hot and it often seems like a chore to face a bowl of steaming hot noodle soup (Phở) or a plate of rice.

Many believe that such dishes, by inducing sweat, actually help lower ones body temperature and help fight the heat.  Not everyone feels that way. One cool and refreshing alternative is Phở Cuốn, a food resembling fresh spring rolls, but fundamentally different in a number of ways.

Another advantage that Phở Cuốn has is it’s location. The most famous places to find the dish are located onTrúc Bạch lake, just opposite West Lake, Hanoi’s largest lake. Trúc Bạch itself is a relatively small lake and can be circled in five minutes by motorbike or half an hour on foot. There are plenty of places that offer  Phở Cuốn around the lake, but the easiest to find are on Trúc Bạch road, on the north end of the lake, or Trấn Vũ on the south end.

Finding a Phở Cuốn restaurant is not a problem, but choosing the right one sometimes is. With such a large number of these types of restaurants, there is natural competition between them. It is not uncommon for restaurant owners to jump in front of your cab or motorbike in a desperate attempt to get you to come to their shop. ”Stop, you want Phở Cuốn…” one young man told me putting his hands on the dashboard of my motorbike pleadingly – as it turns out he was right.

  Phở Cuốn consists of a slightly cooked rice paper shell the same thickness as a Phở noodle. Inside this soft shell is a selection of herbs and greens – mainly cilantro, mustard leaf, and lettuce – and thinly sliced beef that has been cooked with garlic and generous amounts of pepper. It is served cold with a bowl of fish sauce, garlic, carrots, raddish, vinegar, boiled water, chilli and some sugar for dipping.

Once dipped in the sauce the taste of Phở Cuốn contains many of the fundamental elements of Vietnamese cuisine: slightly sweet and spicy but light and fresh. The dish is served cold and has the effect of a hearty salad on one’s appetite leaving plenty of room for a few cheeky beers or to try some other delights that many of these restaurants offer like Phở Chiên.  Phở Chiên is similarily light summer fair; it uses the same rice noodle paper as Phở Cuốn but is sliced into squares, stacked, and deep fried.  It is topped with the same garlicky beef as well as field cabbage and it is recommended that one dip it in the Phở Cuốn sauce.  It has a crispy exterior but a delicate center, it is reminiscent of a fresh savory donut.

Hours can easily slip by sitting cross legged on bamboo mats as one enjoys the cool breeze of the lake and a few plates of Phở Cuốn with friends.  You see a different, more relaxed side of Hanoi, as old men fish and young couples paddle along leisurely in swan boats.  It is the ideal place to wile away one’s time under the shade of a tree and await the cooling relief of evening.

The Phở Cuốn restaurants on Trúc Bạch are open from early afternoon till about nine or ten at night. The cost for a plate of about twenty Phở Cuốn, a plate of Phở Chiên, and four beers is just over VND200,000 (Ú$10). For the relief it offers from the heat, it’s a steal.

If you are interested in exploring Vietnam travel you can visit Vietnam travel company, Halong cruise, Halong Bay, Halong tours site to know further attractive places.

Grilled Snout Otter Clam – a specialty of Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

24 Aug

Snout Otter Clam (tu hài) is a specialty of Cat Ba Island, Hai Phong district. Actually, it’s so hard to find out the reason why it was named “tu hài”.

Grilled Snout Otter Clam

Its original name sounds like a Chinese name that is so difficult to be explained the meaning. People just can describe Snout Otter Clam to look similar to clam but its meat part is as thick as blood cockle, its taste is as fresh as abalone. Previously, Snout Otter Clam was a special seafood used as offerings for the kings.

Grilled Snout Otter Clam will be tastiest when being served with sliced-into-thread fresh ginger and deep-fried onion bulbs and Cat Hai fish sauce. Visitors who first time have tried grill Snout Otter Clam will feel its taste strange because the meat is soft, fresh and totally unique, different from other kinds of seafood.

Snout Otter Clam lays deeply below the low tide sand field in the coast. People have to dig on at least 50cm to find out it. Snout Otter Clam seekers must spend a long day in the sand field to gather several tens of Snout Otter Clam, that’s why it becomes the most specious kind of seafood in the local area. Because of the difficulty in seeking Snout Otter Clam, there are not many people doing this job. The experienced seekers find it easily to dominate the fields and the cost of Snout Otter Clam also increases due to this.

There is a seafood restaurant in Hai Phong which has bought fresh Snout Otter Clam and raised it in the aquarium containing salty water in order to satisfy the customers who are interested in seafood. However, after being raised, Snout Otter Clam can’t be as greasy as when they have already been gathered. In addition, the salty water in aquarium must be the one from Cat Ba Bay so that Snout Otter Clam can live. The sea water from other places are not appropriate to the living environment of Snout Otter Clam because of the difference in salt level.

Furthermore, people say that the chef of this restaurant who is proficient in making grilled Snout Otter Clam formerly was the cook of  an military unit which had the famous astronaut Tuan Pham in America defending period, that’s one of reasons for the large number of customers coming to this restaurant.

It can’t be denied that grilled Snout Otter Clam is extremely delicious although the dish can only be served in afternoon drink time in the port area or as the appetizer of a luxury meal in the hotel. To totally feel the taste of  this specious specialty, there is a recommendation that diners should enjoy it with several cups of  herbal wine.

If you are interested in exploring Vietnam tourism you can visit Vietnam travel agency, Halong cruises, Halong Bay, Halong travel site to know further attractive places.