In the past we've traveled to Vancouver to buy banh chung from a Vietnamese deli, but this year a trip to the city just wasn't going to happen, so we decided to tackle making this very important Viet food at home. We decided to do the banh chung a few weeks before the new year and freeze them, as we know from years past that they freeze and reheat just fine. I also wanted to have time for a plan B if we had a disaster. I looked online and at a few of my many Viet cookbooks and chose the one in Andrea Nguyen's Into the Vietnamese Kitchen. It seemed detailed and none of the recipes from this book have ever let me down before. David and Adeline worked together to make the mold and we gathered the ingredients from our local asian grocery store, but I was worried, to be honest. The ingredients are simple, but there seemed to be an awful lot of steps involved, including origami-type folding, which was scary to me. Banh chung is magically tasty once the soaked long grain sticky rice, steamed mung beans and pork marinated in fish sauce and pepper have cooked together in banana leaves for many hours but how it got from these elements to finished cakes seemed pretty mystifying to me.
We got everything together after lunch and David read out the instructions while Adeline and I assembled the cakes. The plan was to get right at them in the morning as they need to boil for seven hours after assembly, but with Adeline's horrifying cold we got a very slow start. The cold is also the reason that Adeline isn't in any of the pictures, and if there weren't many many hours of boiling involved she would have been deemed far too germy to help. Turns out banh chung making is quick and fun and we're all super proud that we've made it ourselves! Adeline really got to do a lot of the process, from measuring and cutting the bamboo and banana leaves, adding the ingredients and helping to compact the cakes right through to the final foil wrap and string. Seriously - the hardest part was tying the string on in the end. String tying is NOT in my skill set! By the fourth cake I wasn't any better at the tying than I was for the first one, but the string comes off before the big reveal at the table, so I'm okay with my amateur string work.
I feel really proud that we've started a new tradition of making our own banh chung for Tet, and I like to picture Adeline many years from now showing her own children how to prepare the ingredients and wrap the cakes. Maybe she'll even use the same mold that she and David built when she was three. Adeline lost a great deal by being adopted internationally, but the food traditions, recipes and tastes of Vietnam are something I'm excited to share with her and that I know she'll keep her whole life.
If you'd like to learn the story of why banh chung is THE food that must be eaten at Tet, here's the stick puppet version!
Next we'll be making our pickled shallots and doing some decorating!