During the months of January and February, what you'll find in most Vietnamese households is the preparation of making banh tet or banh chung to help celebrate the Lunar New Year.
While both banh tet and banh chung can be eaten at any time of the year, it is very much seasonal as it is brought about during the Lunar New Year where the Vietnamese together make it with family and it is not only eaten, but also served up as offerings to ancestral altars to help remember loved ones that have passed.
Banh Tet vs. Banh Chung - What's the difference?
The main difference between banh tet and banh chung is in the shape of the cake. Banh tet is normally a log-like cylindrical shape that's about a foot long and 4 inches in diameter. South and central Vietnamese families refer to this cake as banh tet. Banh chung is normally a square that is a foot around and about 4 inches in width. North Vietnamese families refer to this cake as banh chung.
South and Central Vietnamese Rice Cake - Banh Chung
In central and southern parts of Vietnam, this New Year's cake is wrapped in a cylindrical fashion as shown below.
Banh tet are typically wrapped in banana leaves.
North Vietnamese Rice Cake - Banh Chung
In northern parts of Vietnam, this savory cake is wrapped in a square shape as shown in the image below.
Banh chung is typically wrapped in la dong, which is related to arrow root.
Similarities Between Banh Tet and Banh Chung
Both are weighty cakes that are made with amazingly hearty ingredients. The ingredients are exactly the same between both rice cakes, the only difference is the name and the shape.
The ingredients both contain glutinous sticky rice, mung beans, pork belly (marinated in fish sauce, black peppers, and salt).
Both cakes also take a few days to prepare and are boiled for a couple of hours to get the rice to meld into a delicious and chewy texture.
The leaves of the tropical plant provide a tea-like flavor to the rice.
What does banh tet and banh chung taste like?
When you unravel and remove the tropical leaves from banh tet and banh chung, you'll notice a slight green tint due to the banana leaves or la dong that provides a tea like flavoring to a deliciously chewy sticky rice. As you bite into the rice, you'll be greeted with a deliciously buttery mung bean meld and find your taste buds finding an opalescent taste of flavorful pork belly.
If you have a chance to eat a fresh one right from the stove, the rice will be warm, soft, and slightly sweet and chewy. If you eat one that is a few days old, the rice will be at room temperature and just as delicious.
Banh tet and banh chung can also be grilled and pan fried for a more chewy and harder texture.
There are so many ways to eat banh chung and so many ways to vary how it is consumed, it's an amazingly versatile dish.
Cooking Banh Tet versus Banh Chung
Assembling banh tet can take over several days. The glutinous rice and mung beans must be soaked in water for at minimum 8 hours. The pork belly needs to be marinated in the refrigerator overnight for a minimum of 4 hours.
Traditionally, after assembling banh tet, it is set in boiling water for approximately 8 hours to cook. With more modern technologies like the pressure cooker, cooking time can get as low as 2 hours.
Serving Banh Tet vs Banh Chung
Both cakes can be served at room temperature as is, flattened to fry like a pancake or grilled to get a slightly roasted flavor.
You generally serve this Lunar New Year dish with a multitude of Vietnamese charcuterie and accompaniments like nuoc mam and pickled vegetables.
Banh tet is cylindrical and banh chung is square shaped.
In central and south Vietnam, this rice cake is referred to as banh tet. In north Vietnam, it is referred to as banh chung.
Banh tet is usually wrapped in banana leaves. Banh chung is normally wrapped with la dong, the Vietnamese term for stachyphrynium plancentarium.
Banh tet and banh chung a very popular dishes in Vietnam. If you ever visit this beautiful country, you'll definitely see food vendors selling this delectable dish street side.
These delicious rice cakes are the must-have food during this amazing celebration of a new year and ancestors. Vietnamese grocery stores, delis, and bakeries will have them setting out during the months of January and February.
As the traditional rice cake for the Lunar New Year, banh tet and banh chung should never be passed up. And if you can't make it, buy it at your local asian supermarket!
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