The little package of yellow, turmeric infused steamed glutinous rice is topped by shavings of cream coloured mung beans and sunburnt crispy shallots.
Taking a break the other day from my lovely green smoothie breakfasts a la Vedged Out, I decided to carb-out and make this popular Hanoian breakfast dish. For some months now it’s been sitting looking yellow and handsome in my copy of Tracey Lister and Andreas Pohl’s book, Vietnamese Street Food, and it was specifically recommended (and requested) by Hang, a new Vietnamese friend who took the time to google search all her favourite Hanoian food that she missed with me. When it got to this dish, the look in her eye was particularly sorrowful and longing – a good sign.
Although the exact quantities can be found in the Street Food book, you make this dish by soaking glutinous rice and yellow mung beans overnight, steaming the glutinous rice in a kitchen cloth for about 30 minutes with (fresh) turmeric, salt and sugar, boiling the mung beans till soft then squeezing them into a ball and grating it over the top of the rice. You then top with fried shallots and shallot oil or sesame oil if you don’t have that. I hadn’t been able to sleep the night before making this and was worse for wear in the morning, ending up setting fire to the kitchen cloth and burning half of it off while trying to use it to steam the rice. So… be careful.
I’m more than usual on the hunt for great vegetarian Vietnamese dishes at the moment, since a friend of mine and I are hoping to host our very first, one off Supper Club towards the end of the summer. This is pretty exciting news and I will keep posting with new developments. The Sticky Rice and Mung Bean breakfast parcels turned out to be a bit carby and mild to suit a dinner party menu, but it’s addictive and the rice is so dense that you can use your hands to eat it and it will all hold together! This is a breakfast fit for a workman with delicate flavour sensibilities.
The unwrapping of the cooked, mung bean Banh Chung from its Banana Leaf raiments. The banana leaves dye the glutinous rice green and give it a faint smell of green tea.
Banh Chung is a steamed glutinous rice cake with a bean and sometimes pork filling that the Vietnamese traditionally make for Tet – the lunar new year. The cakes are boiled for about 6 hours in big stockpot and the whole process reminded me of making Christmas Pudding. Interesting that when making food for special occasions, totally different cultures have gone traditionally for that same soft, dense pudding texture.
There are many ways you can enjoy a slice of Banh Chung in the weeks following Tet – fry a piece in a little oil; microwave it; steam it. I made 6 and ended up having a microwaved piece for breakfast with a little sugar on top every morning for about a month until we’d eaten up all the cakes up. I sometimes ate it with a bit of pickled mouli as well, although be careful to use rice vinegar or you might end up with a kind of pungent, fish and chips style smell pervading your breakfast (my dad’s recipe). I was fine with that but it’s not exactly a delicate flavour.
I used this vegetarian starter recipe to make the Banh Chung – http://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-banh-chung-vietnamese-rice-cakes-164610. However, I increased the quantity of mung beans to 2 cups to give a more generous filling, and used a red onion. For next year’s Tet I plan to add a couple of Shitake mushrooms to the mung bean filling, to give it a more juicy texture and richer flavour that seeps into the rice, which is what pork fat does in the non-vegetarian version. If you wanted to make a sweet cake, you could also add some slices of banana to the mung bean paste, which I’m sure would be really soft and delicious. The cakes last in the fridge for a week but you can also freeze them for up to about a month, just make sure you freeze them soon after they’ve finished cooking.