Tomorrow marks the first day of the new year in the lunar calender. Happy Chinese new year / Tết!

As a newly married couple, it’s the first year Zen and I will have to give red packets to kids. Collecting the well wishes and money was one of my most memorable parts of Lunar New Year growing up, so it’s a tradition I’m excited to keep. Another tradition I’m keen to continue is the festive cooking – whether it be peanut cookies, Teochew ang toh kueh, or fried sesame balls.

Always eager to learn new recipes, Mum attended a banh chung making course at last year’s Bankstown Lunar New Year Festival. Banh Chung is considered an indispensable dish of Tết and I don’t recall there ever being a Lunar New Year at home without it.

This year, we were able to make them from scratch!

spread of banh chung ingredients on table

Wrapped in la dong (related to the arrowroot plant family, these can be found in specialty Asian grocers) or banana leaves, these weighty cakes are square in shape to symbolise the Earth and are commonly made of glutinous rice, mung bean and fatty pork. The fatty pork is where the flavour lies, so don’t substitute this for lean pork.

A sort-of regional variation, in ours, we also added home-brined salted egg yolks, shiitake mushrooms and chestnuts which makes it slightly similar to the Chinese joong/zongzi; I guess this reflects my parents’ upbringing, being Teochew Chinese born in Vietnam.

There are also variations of banh chung for vegetarians and even sweet versions with the pork being replaced with banana or brown sugar.

banh chung ingredients

With many traditions and stories lost during my family’s dispersed migration, wrapping banh chung with Mum gave me a fulfilling sense of connection to my grandparents and their Lunar New Year celebratory efforts.

banhchung-25

While I made a mess of the first 3 banh chung I wrapped (Mum had to save them with cling wrap!), the following 10 were as perfect as the store-bought ones. The dong leaves were lined straight all around, the filling was firm and flat, no longer protruding like a beer belly, and the string was tied to even ratio.

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Thanks to Mum’s patience with me documenting the entire process from our cooking adventure last weekend, here’s the recipe!

Banh chung
Yields 13
Vietnamese square rice cakes for Tết (lunar new year)
Print
1731 calories
343 g
98 g
17 g
82 g
6 g
746 g
13782 g
37 g
0 g
9 g
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size
746g
Yields
13
Amount Per Serving
Calories 1731
Calories from Fat 148
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 17g
26%
Saturated Fat 6g
30%
Trans Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 3g
Monounsaturated Fat 6g
Cholesterol 98mg
33%
Sodium 13782mg
574%
Total Carbohydrates 343g
114%
Dietary Fiber 74g
295%
Sugars 37g
Protein 82g
Vitamin A
232%
Vitamin C
112%
Calcium
72%
Iron
165%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Ingredients
  1. 2kg sticky uncooked rice
  2. 1.3kg green uncooked split mung beans, soaked overnight
  3. 1.5kg pork neck cut into chunks, seasoned with salt, pepper and onion
  4. 1 bunch dong leaves or banana leaves
  5. 1 bowl chopped onion
  6. 8 tbs salt
  7. 2 tbs sugar
  8. 13 x 2.5m string
  9. 2 square molds; recommended 11 x 11 x 4cm in dimensions
Instructions
  1. Add 4 tablespoons of salt to the sticky rice, cover with water and soak overnight. Add 2 tablespoons of salt to the mung beans, also cover with water and soak overnight.
  2. On the next day, drain both the sticky rice and mung beans separately. Add 1 tablespoon of salt and 1 tablespoon of sugar to each. Mix each well and store separately.
  3. Soak the dong leaves in hot water to soften.
  4. Wrapping
  5. Trim the dong leaves, removing the tough stem and tip.
  6. banh chung step 1
  7. Place a string at the bottom of the mold. Place two leaves number 1 & 2 in one direction, slightly overlapping to cover the width of the mold.
  8. banh chung step 2
  9. Fold them down to crease at the edges. Do the same with leaves 3 & 4 in the opposite direction.
  10. banh chung step 4
  11. banh chung step 3
  12. banh chung step 5
  13. banh chung step 6
  14. Cut leaves 5 & 6 in half, fold in a square and place them inside the four corners of the mold.
  15. banh chung step 7
  16. (Cut another 2 leaves in half and fit them into the corners again for extra reinforcement if you're a newb - this helps the banh chung from splitting open when you're wrapping it later)
  17. banh chung step 8
  18. Place 1 bowl of sticky rice on the leaves, ensuring the rice is distributed evenly to the corners.
  19. banh chung step 9
  20. Top with 1 cup of mung beans, layer on top with pork or banana, then add another bowl of beans, followed by a bowl of rice.
  21. banh chung step 10
  22. banh chung step 10
  23. Press down with a spoon to condense the filling and ensure the surface is flat.
  24. banh chung step 11
  25. Cut 1 dong leaf into thirds and cover the top.
  26. banh chung step 12
  27. banh chung step 15
  28. Carefully place a string at the bottom of the mold and remove the mold.
  29. banh chung step 16
  30. Tie the cake firmly with the string, crossing over at the back and moving down 1/3 each time until you've formed a grid-like pattern and the leaves are not loose. With the remaining string, connect the first and the last lines to create a handle.
  31. banh chung step 17
  32. Cooking
  33. Place in a large pot, pour hot water to cover the cakes and boil for 3 hours. Add hot water every hour if necessary.
  34. banh chung step 18
  35. After 3 hours or so, remove the cakes, submerge them into cold water and wash them one by one for a few minutes. Drain and leave them on a hard and flat surface, weigh them down with something heavy to keep shape, until they are cool.
  36. To be eaten at room temperature or pan-fried for a crisp crust.
Notes
  1. Recipe variations
  2. Marinade the pork with a mix of light soy, dark soy, sesame oil and five spice powder for extra fragrance
  3. Serving suggestions
  4. Best served with dua mon (Vietnamese pickles)
  5. Storage
  6. The cake should keep for 10 days in the fridge or several months in the freezer
beta
calories
1731
fat
17g
protein
82g
carbs
343g
more
Adapted from Australian Vietnamese Volunteer Association
I Ate My Way Through http://www.iatemywaythrough.com/
bundles of banh chung

Making banh chung is a two day task and a family effort, but oh, it’s so worth it.

The banh chung were distributed to my siblings the next day and by night, we were all Whatsapping each other photos of them pan-fried for dinner. We all agreed that there was such a depth of flavour in the filling.

I especially love the amazing fragrance in which the dong leaves impart, and the wonderful satisfaction that these were all homemade.
banhchung-31

banhchung-32

banhchung-33

Mum’s photo trumped us all though – she had her own homemade dua mon (pickled radish and carrot) as an accompaniment.

Dua mon for banh chung

I’ll have to learn to make that next too!

banhchung-35

But of course, if you don’t have time to make banh chung from scratch, just look for them at any Vietnamese grocery store. The ones in the above photo were spotted at Cabramatta last weekend.

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Jennifer is the founding blogger of I Ate My Way Through (originally, Jenius.com.au). Growing up in the multicultural melting pot of Sydney’s Inner West as a second generation Australian (of Vietnamese refugee parents of Teochew Chinese ancestry), Jen has always had a deep curiosity about global cuisines, culinary heritage and the cultural assimilation of immigrants. For Jen and her family, food is always at the centre of all celebrations, life events and milestones. A lover of the finer things in life, as well as cheap eats, her blogging ethos is all about empowering and inspiring people to expand their culinary repertoire. When not running her two companies (she is also the Managing Director of The Bamboo Garden online marketing agency), Jen can be found exploring old-world charms at vintage markets and delving into local eats around the world. She has a weakness for fried chicken.
  • Great post Jennifer! Beautiful photos and great instructions. The banh chung looks delicious and the salted eggs, chestnuts and shitake sound like wonderful additions. Thanks for sharing this recipe. Love these “sticky rice rolls”, especially eaten warm/hot. The tying part looks intricate and I’d probably create quite a work of art out of it, lol. Just saw your wedding post/photos. It looks amazing!! Congratulations to you and Zen! Both of you look like magic together! Love those shoes, the cake and flowers. Have an awesome new year! 🙂

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