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Saigon Pamily preserves Tet Tradition With Homemade ‘banh tet’

Glutinous rice, mung bean and pork are wrapped inside banana leaves.
Glutinous rice, mung bean and pork are wrapped inside banana leaves.

A family in Ho Chi Minh City has kept a Tet tradition going by making their own ‘banh tet,’ a glutinous rice cake typically eaten during the Lunar New Year holiday in Vietnam, at a time when the delicacy is commercially available in the form of pre-cooked and ready-to-eat food.

‘Banh tet’ is made primarily from glutinous rice, which is rolled in banana leaves into a thick, log-like cylindrical shape, with a banana or mung bean-and-pork filling.

The ingredients are then cooked for at least six hours in a wood-fired pot of boiling water, and served by removing the banana leaf and slicing the cake into wheel-shaped servings.

‘Banh tet’ made use of readily available ingredients in any Vietnamese home in the past and demonstrates the importance of rice in the Vietnamese culture.

However, as the modern lifestyle takes away most of people’s free time, newer generations of Vietnamese who move to live in big cities have given up making their own ‘banh tet’ at home and choose to buy pre-cooked ones instead.

Traditional Vietnamese ‘banh tet’ can either have banana or mung bean-and-pork fillings.
Traditional Vietnamese ‘banh tet’ can either have banana or mung bean-and-pork fillings.

But for the family of Nguyen Van Can, who lives in District 12, Ho Chi Minh City, preserving this tradition is a way of teaching their children a valuable lesson about kinship and culture.

Each year, Can’s relatives from the Mekong Delta province of Soc Trang have homegrown ingredients sent to him by bus weeks before Tet.

“Many of my nephews work in Ho Chi Minh City, so they rarely get the chance to taste a homemade cake,” said Can’s sister-in-law Duong Thi Tang Co, who lives in Soc Trang.

On a productive morning, Can’s family members can finish wrapping 100 rolls of ‘banh tet,’ enough to get them through the long holiday, make offerings to their ancestors, and share with neighbors.

With less than three weeks to the 2019 Lunar New Year, which falls on February 5, Can’s small house is already filled with the smell of banana leaves and freshly cooked ‘banh tet,’ an unmistakable sign that Tet is just around the corner.

Glutinous rice, mung bean and pork are wrapped inside banana leaves
Glutinous rice, mung bean and pork are wrapped inside banana leaves
Black beans are mixed with glutinous rice to make banana-filled ‘banh tet.'
Black beans are mixed with glutinous rice to make banana-filled ‘banh tet.’
A ‘banh tet’ is rolled in banana leaves into a thick, log-like cylindrical shape.
A ‘banh tet’ is rolled in banana leaves into a thick, log-like cylindrical shape.
A roll of ‘banh tet’ is tightened using special strings made from trees in the bamboo family.
A roll of ‘banh tet’ is tightened using special strings made from trees in the bamboo family.
Just enough force must be applied when tightening a roll of ‘banh tet,' as it greatly influences the taste and texture of the cooked cake.
Just enough force must be applied when tightening a roll of ‘banh tet,’ as it greatly influences the taste and texture of the cooked cake.
Rolls of uncooked ‘banh tet.'
Rolls of uncooked ‘banh tet.’
‘Banh tet’ are typically made and sold in pairs.
‘Banh tet’ are typically made and sold in pairs.
‘Banh tet’ are cooked in a pot of boiling water over log-fuelled fire.
‘Banh tet’ are cooked in a pot of boiling water over log-fuelled fire.
Long sticks are used to remove cooked ‘banh tet’ from the steaming hot water.
Long sticks are used to remove cooked ‘banh tet’ from the steaming hot water.
Cooked ‘banh tet’ are hung outside to dry and retain their cylindrical shape.
Cooked ‘banh tet’ are hung outside to dry and retain their cylindrical shape.
Wheel-shaped slices of cooked ‘banh tet’ are served.
Wheel-shaped slices of cooked ‘banh tet’ are served.

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