Tuesday, January 28 2020


Vietnamese honour ancestors with sticky rice balls

Update: April, 18/2018 - 15:00
A family make glutinous cakes at home. — VNA/VNS Photo Anh Tuấn
Viet Nam News

HÀ NỘI — For the past few days, glutinous rice balls are being served in various markets and food shops in Hà Nội for the traditional Cold Food Festival.

This year, the festival falls on April 18, which is the third day of the third lunar month.

There are two type of glutinous rice balls: bánh trôi and bánh chay. Bánh trôi is the size of a grape and has a cube of palm sugar inside; bánh chay is the size of an egg, with mung beans inside, and is served with a thick, sweet sauce. 

The custom of making glutinous rice balls has its roots in China, where it is celebrated from the third to fifth day of the fourth lunar month. On this occasion, the Chinese honour a scholar named Zitui who died of fire burns. Zitui lived in China during 771-476BC. Traditionally, fire is considered taboo on this day, so people only eat cold food. 

The Vietnamese, however, celebrate only one day - the third day of the third lunar month. On this day, glutinous rice balls are offered to ancestors as a sign of gratitude. Fire is not considered taboo on this day in Việt Nam, and along with the glutinous rice balls, people have normal meals.

It is quite simple to make the rice balls. For bánh trôi, prepare the dough with cubes of brown palm sugar inside and roll it into grape-sized balls. Drop the balls into boiling water one by one. Bánh trôi is ready when the balls float to the surface. Transfer the balls to cold water immediately, otherwise they will stick to each other. To serve, put the balls on a plate and sprinkle sesame seeds on top.

The recipe and process of making bánh chay are similar to bánh trôi, but bánh chay has mung beans inside instead of palm sugar and is served with a thick and sweet sauce made of grated ginger and coconut fibre.

Though the versions of glutinous rice balls may vary from region to region, they all share common ingredients: green beans, sugar cubes and sticky rice.

In Cao Bằng and Lạng Sơn provinces, the Tày ethnic people make “Coóng phù” cake. It is served with hot sugarcane sauce flavoured with ginger.

In the south of Việt Nam, people tend to make bánh chay instead of bánh trôi, while in the north, bánh trôi is more popular, clearly highlighting the difference between the two regions on the day of the Cold Food Festival. 

Nowadays, Vietnamese people eat glutinous rice balls not only on special occasions but also as a daily snack. Due to lack of time to make the traditional glutinous balls on the day of the Cold Food Festival, many people buy the rice balls from local eateries. Their respect for their ancestors, however, does not diminish. — VNS

Glutinous cakes are available in mass number at markets in Hà Nội. — VNA/VNS Photo Thùy Dương
It is simple to make glutinous balls. — VNA/VNS Photo Thùy Dương
The recipe of making bánh chay is similar to bánh trôi, but inside bánh chay is mung beans. — VNA/VNS Photo Thế Duyệt
Bánh trôi is in size of a grape and made of rice, with a palm sugar cube inside. — VNA/VNS Photo Thu Hiền
People queue at a popular food shop in Hà Nội’s Ngô Thì Nhậm Street to buy the cakes. — VNA/VNS Photo Thùy Dương

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