January, 22 2012 17:02:30

A taste for traditional Vietnamese cakes


Having your cake and eating ­ it: Artisan Nguyen Thi Xiem makes delicious banh xeo (Vietnamese crepe) for visitors.
Cake work: For Southern Vietnamese people, banh tet are an indispensable part of Tet (Lunar New Year). — VNA/VNS Photo Duy Khuong
by Phuong Mai

All the stoves were burning as Muoi Xiem, or Nguyen Thi Xiem, made delicious and hot banh xeo (Vietnamese crepe) for visitors at the first traditional cake festival in Can Tho City on January 16.

Banh xeo is thin fried pancakes stuffed with pork, shrimp and bean sprouts, and served with vegetables and sour, diluted fish sauce. It is one of hundreds of traditional Vietnamese cakes which were presented at the festival.

"I was dazzled by such a big feast of traditional cakes," said Nguyen Van Thanh in Ninh Kieu District.

"Everything looked colourful and delicious," he added.

The festival featured more than 100 kinds of traditional cakes from the southern region, like banh tet (cylindric glutinous rice cake), banh beo (floating fern shaped cake), and banh bo (steamed rice cake) that were made by 20 famous chefs and bakers from southern provinces and cities.

The 70-year-old Xiem, whose family is renowned for making banh xeo in Can Tho for 58 years, introduced more than 10 kinds of cake including banh xeo with seafood and banh xeo with mushrooms.

Chin Cam, or Huynh Thi Ngoc Dung, demonstrated and taught visitors how to make her special banh tet. Cam's cake includes violet or traditional sticky rice with different fillings like salted duck egg, dried shrimp and Chinese sausage, instead of the usual mung bean and pork as usual.

Cam said she made the mixed banh tet to meet the demand for of her customers who wanted to try new flavours.

The festival was organised by the Can Tho City Trade and Investment Centre, the city Business Research and Support Association, the General Commercial Joint Stock Company and the Sai Gon Tiep Thi Newspaper

The organisers said the festival was a chance for culinary experts, artisans, chefs and gourmets to exchange experiences in making traditional cakes.

It also aimed to introduce traditional Vietnamese cakes to people all over the world and promote business in Vietnamese specialities, they said.

Thanh said he expected the festival would be launched annually to let people enjoy the country's traditional cakes during the Tet (Lunar New Year) holidays.


Welcoming in the new year: A woman makes banh tet for the new year.
Traditional cakes, new flavours

During Tet (Lunar New Year), Vietnamese families usually gather together to make and enjoy banh chung (square glutinous rice cake) or banh tet (cylindric glutinous rice cake) to celebrate the up-coming spring.

The traditional cake, dating back to the reign of the sixth Hung King, is made with glutinous rice, mung bean and pork.

In modern city, the cake is getting a makeover or two as people look for a change. That change has happened via new kinds of rice and fillings.

Instead of the traditional white sticky rice, cake makers now use green rice flakes, violet sticky rice and rice cooked with baby jackfruit.

Fillings include lotus seeds and cashews.

The Muoi Xiem Restaurant is offering banh tet with violet sticky rice and salted duck eggs or banana at a pricey VND600,000 (US$28) per pair.

The owner of the Tien Thinh shop in District 3 where provides specialities from the North, said this year, customers preferred green rice flake cakes than the traditional ones because of their exotic and fresh flavours. Here, the cakes cost between VND100,000-140,000 ($4.7-6.6).

However, many people do not like the new flavours.

Pham Ngoc Phuong of District 9, said she and her family usually got together to eat traditional banh tet with Vietnamese turnip pickle and pork with egg in coconut juice on Lunar New Year's Eve.

Although the new ingredients brought out new flavours, they would change the cake's meanings for the Tet festival, she said. — VNS

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