You might have heard of the special Tet food that Vietnamese prepare to eat and offer to guests during the Tet holidays: Banh Chung and Banh Day.
There is a beautiful legend about the creation of the two dishes, that traces all the way back to the Hong Bang Dynasty, when the 6th Hung Emperor ruled the land.
As the Emperor was in the opinion that he was too old to rule the land, he set a cooking competition amongst his 21 sons. The son who came up with the best food would be chosen to take over his position as a ruler.
While most of his sons were wealthy and set out to find the most exotic and extravagant ingredients for their dishes, the Emperor’s 18th son Lang Lieu, also the poorest due to the early death of his mother, had a dream one night. In his dream he was told the exact instructions for two types of cakes. So he got to work.
On the day of the contest, the Emperor ate his way through the various foods presented to him by his 21 sons, but despite how simple Lang Lieu’s ingredients were, the flavour of the two simple cakes impressed him the most.
One cake consisted of glutinous rice, molded into a round rice cake. It symbolises the sky.
Lang Lieu called it Banh Day.
The other cake was a square rice cake filled with bean paste and meat. It represented the earth and therefore was called Banh Chung.
Banh Chung and Banh Day won the competition and the Hung Emperor passed on his throne to his 18th son Lang Lieu.
Since that time, the two cakes have become an important part of the Tet holiday tradition and together are the quitessential Tet food.
There is even a poem about the Tet Foods, which goes like this:
‘Thịt mỡ, dưa hành, câu đối đỏ
Cây nêu, tràng pháo bánh chưng xanh’
Nêu tree, firecracker,
green banh chung’.
Where to buy Banh Chung and Banh Day
Locals often buy the food directly from an neighbour that is known to make tasty Banh Chung and Banh Day.
But you can also find it on many stalls on the Central Market in Hoi An.
A vegetarian version of the food can be bought at the Vegetarian Restaurant Tam Quang Minh in 33 Duong Ly Thai To.