Viet Nam News
By Hà Nguyễn
Tết custom demands different sorts of cake to offer to the earth, heaven and ancestors. Apart from bánh chưng (square cake), there are many other delicacies that have become popular over a thousand or more years. They include phu thê cake, mướt rolls, and sừng trâu (buffalo horn) cake.
|Southern style: Bột lọc cake is a specialty of Huế. Photos monngon.org|
Phu thê cake
A well known specialty of Bắc Ninh Province’s Đình Bảng Ward, phu thê cake, must be on the Tết offering tray, at wedding parties or other major festivals. When spring comes, the cakes are presented in pairs to present to married couples.
Lê Thị Hiền, 86, from Đình Bảng, told Việt Nam News that the making of phu thê began in the Lý Dynasty in 1009.
|Filling: Phu thê cake is filling and tasty.|
People make the popular cake all year round, Hiền said, and there are many legends surrounding it. When King Lý Anh Tông went to the warfront, his queen at home missed him so much, she made a cake and sent it to him. The king enjoyed the cake so much and named it phu thê (husband and wife) cake.
There is also the story about a trader who had to travel far. His wife made the cake for him to take along, saying that “although far away, my love for you is as sweet as the cake".
Another story: while joining a festival of Đô Temple, which falls on 14-15-16 of the third lunar month, King Lý Thánh Tông and his queen had been offered specialty cakes by a Đình Bảng young people. The King and Queen enjoyed the cake so much and named it phu thê.
|Togetherness: Phu thê (husband and wife) cake is from Bắc Ninh’s Đình Bảng Ward.|
Ever since, the cake has been a sign of faithfulness, so the cake is often present at wedding parties wishing a young couple living to live with each other “until death do us apart”, said Hiền.
She said to make a tasty cake, makers use nếp cái hoa vàng (special fragrant glutinuous rice) ground into powder and mixed with ingredients such as white sugar, green thread papaya and banana oil, vanilla, cốm flavouring and dành dành (a wild seed) juice all moulded carefully into a dough.
The cake’s interior is filled with green beans, white sugar and coconut juice and thread, Hiền said, adding that makers use dong leaves (used to wrap bánh chưng, square cake) to wrap the cake before steaming it and tying them together in pairs with pink bamboo string. This represents a wish that the couple be tied forever.
Nguyễn Thùy Dương from Hà Nội said she often travelled to Đình Bảng to buy phu thê cakes for Tết. “All my family members, including my grandparents, love the cake."
Bánh mướt, something like the famous steam rice roll of Thanh Trì District in Hà Nội, carries the special flavours of Nghệ An.
Phan Thị Nhẫn, 72, from Nghệ An’s Quỳnh Đôi Village, said she remembered when she was a little girl, she and her sisters often waited for their mother returning from the market to bring them with mướt rolls which covered with yellow dried onion wrapped in green banana leaves.
|Worth fighting for: Mướt rolls, a specialty from Nghệ An.|
The rolls - as long as an adult’s finger - are dipped in a bowl of sauce made from fish sauce, lemon, sugar, and chili. “We often competed to get the rolls because they are so delicious,” said Nhẫn.
The rolls are made of tám thơm (fragrant rice) and are used to offer visitors, for family gatherings, death anniversaries, wedding parties and, of course, Tết. They are often eaten with broth made from steamed beef, chicken or pig’s leg and green bean sprouts, salad and fresh mint herbs from the garden.
Coming together: Dao ethnic women wrap their traditional gù and bột cakes, made of glutinous rice filled with green beans, to welcome Tết.
Sừng trâu cake, Cơ Tu style
For the Cơ Tu ethnic group, sừng trâu ( buffalo horn shape) cakes are always be available at Tết. No one forgets to make the cake to worship deities and their ancestors, said Cơ Tu an elder from Kơ Sang.
The Cơ Tu call the cake Avi cuốt, but the name sừng trâu is more popular and easier to remember.
“The Cơ Tu place much importance on the buffalo. For example, without a buffalo, a wedding is not perfect, so people make sừng trâu cake to worship the deity and ancestors at Tết,” Sang said.
To make the cake, people have to use traditional a special glutinous rice known as "proong" and use lá đót (wild leaves) to wrap them. The cakes are then tied in pairs soaked in water for two hours before boiling them for another three hours.
|Rainbow food: Five-colored sticky rice of Thái ethnic group. The food can not be lacked at a Tết tray.|
The cake is attractive and fragrant. “The cakes ares made without dumpling so it can be kept for a month or more,” said Sang, adding that the cake was used at rice festivals, parties for bumper crops and to welcome visitors.
“I often make them for my grandchildren to take to school or give to my husband who works in the high mountains,” said Sang. — VNS