This year my Exec Sous chef, Mr Coi Minh Tran, taught me how to make Banh Tet, or "Tet cake".
It was a pretty interesting process, and more easily understood once you've lived through a couple of Lunar New Years in Vietnam.
Most places buy it in these days. My guys take pride in keeping the old skills alive and passing them down to the younger generation, so we made it in house..
Coi got to pass the secret upwards, and across cultural borders to an old salty dog like me, so I've posted it here for posterity before I shuffle off this mortal coil and take it to the grave with me.
Banh Tet, or Tet cake is a long lasting log of dense sticky rice with a filling of pork and yellow bean paste.
The whole thing is wrapped tightly in many layers of lightly blanched banana leaf until waterproof, and then steamed for 24 hours.
That's a pretty intense effort. I thought that a classic Christmas Pudding recipe was hardcore at 6-8 hours of steaming.
After 24 hours of cooking, the Tet Cake is done.
It's thick, doughy, heavy and totally protected from bacteria and contamination.
It will last for 2 weeks to a month at room temperature, which is a great thing as most places shut down totally over the Tet period which can last from 4 to 6 days.
This is a wrapped, uncooked banh tet (Tet cake).
Note the thin bamboo ties used for wrapping tightly. There should be a lot of pressure when the rtying up is finished, and tying properly is a bit of an art that my large, fumbling fingers too a while to master.
How to make banh tet
- Strips of pork belly seasoned with salt and pepper
- Sticky rice soaked in cold water
- Yellow beans – cooked and then lightly pureed
- Banana leaves for wrapping. Lightly blanched in boiling water
- Bamboo, stripped off into long thin pieces for tying
Start with five (5) pieces of banana leaf
Two on the bottom, side bu side, shiny side facing down.
Next put one piece of banana flower on top of the first tow, on the middle, over the seam
Finally, put the last two pieces on top, shiny green side up.
This is the wrapper, and we're about to fill it up.
Put some soaked, uncooked sticky rice along the middle of the banana leaf, and make a groove to hold the filling
Fill the groove with pieces of seasoned pork belly. See the photo below.
Next, lie some yellow bean paste alongside the sticky rice
Top with some more sticky rice, and roll into a rough, but evenly shaped roll
The important thing now is tying and wrapping.
Step one is to tie a couple of bands around the middle to hold it in shape. We'll re-do these later, so just do a rough tie to hold it in shape while we focus on the ends.
The ends are really important, so here's what to do:
- Tie roughly into a fat tube, and fold the bottom to stand on one end.
- Using a chopstick, pack the rice and filling evenly, then add more rice until no more filling is visible.
- Fold the end neatly, just like wrapping up a present. It should be folded watertight.
- Hold tightly, then cover the end with a 10 inch strip of banana leaf (width the same as the banh tet diameter). Hold firmly in place
- Crossing at 90 degrees like a "+" sign, put another piece of banana leaf strip across the end and hold firmly in place
- repeat again, so in total, the end has FOUR pieces of banana leaf strip sealing it.
- Tie into place VERY TIGHTLY with bamboo strip. Go around once, very firmly, then putting pressure on the centre of the roll, tie around double strength. Twist to tighten, then hold bamboo tie and repeat 2cm further down.
- When the first end is firmly tied, turn over and repeat to arrange, pack, seal and tie down the other end.
- Then tie the whole roll, every 2cm until it is tightly sealed
The last step is to steam for 24 hours.
The tying is so important, as we don't want any water to seep into the roll, spoiling it.
After 24 hours in the steamer, the log is dense and sticky. It is preserved well enough to last up to a month without refrigeration.
This is a classic Tet celebration cake, and is normally served deep fried.
The stodgy cake then gets a crisp, hot golden exterior to crunch into, and a chilli sauce dip to tempt the taste buds.
This cake is very traditional for Tet new year and a bit of a bonding ritual for households to make the day before New Year.
Banh Tet is really a 'must have' in Southern Vietnam, with banh chung more common in the central and North.
According to recorded, documented history, the 17th century was the time when flat, square 'banh chung' Tet cakes spread from Northern Vietnam to the South, morphing into long, plump, well-endowed rolls as they made the journey to Saigon.
That sounds reasonable.
Legend would suggest that banh chung, the original, is up to 3000 years old, and invented by Prince Lang Lieu.
While I respect the hard work and creativity of Prince Lang & Co, I respect even more the efforts of Chef Victor Coi (below) who took the time to explain each step and give me a 'trial by fire' banh Tet lesson.
This is a cross section of cooked Banh Tet.
As it's sticky rice, the inside is gluey and thick. Because of this, it's often served fried, giving a crisp, crunchy exterior and a chewy hot center.
For a taste contrast, pickled spring onions, veg pickles or chilli sauce are often eaten with it.
And here's the finished product right here.
Sliced, fried and served with chilli.
From myself and the team at Lifestyle Resort Da Nang, "Chuc Mung Nam Moi" (Happy Vietnamese New Year)