February 08, 2008

making Bánh Chưng

Every year for as long as I can remember my mom has been making bánh chưng for Tết. She spends two full days prepping, assembling and then cooking enough bánh chưng for the entire family and beyond. Since the process is so time consuming people rarely make their own, but we have been so lucky as to have never had anyone else's but my mom's homemade ones. I try and go home to help her as it takes all day to assemble just 2 dozen bánh chưng.
Banh Chung (1)Banh Chung (2)
Preparations start the day before I come home, the mung beans have to be soaked and then gently cooked. The rice needs to be soaked as well. The leaves are washed thoroughly and the pork sits overnight marinating.
Banh Chung (3)
At first we made them by hand but it's difficult to hold the leaves in the right form so my dad made us some wooden frames. The wooden frames helped but these new metal ones he made are the best. There are two sets of leaves layered one on top of another, and everything sits on a piece of heavy duty aluminum foil.
Banh Chung (4)
Finally everything is laid out and we're ready to assemble!
Banh Chung (5)Banh Chung (6)
The first layer to go down is the gạo nếp (rice). My mom learned a new trick this year from her sister, if you ever so slightly cook the rice the grains will adhere to one another making it easier to shape in the molds. Centered on top of the rice goes one cup of đậu (mung beans). Then a piece of thịt heo (pork), another cup of the đậu (mung beans) and a last layer of rice. Everything is packed tightly in. You pull the leaves over the entire stack, using the foil to hold everything together.
Banh Chung (7)
Finally it gets tied together with string. My mom has two enormous soup pots just for cooking bánh chưng every year. They have to boil for 8-10 hours and be monitored along the way so the water is always above the level of the cakes. My mom learned from my dad's mom and they were from the north. Per Northern traditions, we make bánh chưng, the square kind, while in the South they make round ones and it's called báng tét. The ingredients are the same though. And the taste so delicious.
On Tết morning my mom cuts them into slices and fries them up for breakfast. We the siblings each get several cakes to take home and freeze. They last throughout the entire year so whenever we're homesick or craving bánh chưng we're instantly transported home to New Year morning.

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