Banh chung and banh day are two essential dishes during the Tet holiday in Vietnam. These cakes hold significant meaning that is often unknown to many people. Let’s discover the meaning and origin of banh chung cake below.
Every spring during Tet, Vietnamese people never forget to include banh chung and banh day in their traditional Tet tray. Every household prepares several pairs of these cakes to honor their ancestors.
It can be said that banh chung and banh day are deeply ingrained in the Vietnamese culture as a way of remembering and respecting one’s roots. These cakes are a symbol of tradition, especially during the first days of the new year.
firstThe origin of banh chung and banh giay
According to legend, after defeating the An invaders, the 6th Hung King instructed his sons to bring meaningful gifts to the king. The son with the most meaningful gift would inherit the throne.
All the king’s children searched for delicious and unique presents to offer, except for the 18th son named Lang Lieu. Despite his pure and filial nature, Lang Lieu felt ashamed because he had nothing valuable to give due to his mother’s early death and his lack of wealth compared to his brothers.
During a deep sleep, Lang Lieu had a dream where a god said to him, “There is nothing in heaven and earth that is more precious than rice, the staple food that sustains people. Use sticky rice to make round and square cakes, representing Heaven and Earth. Wrap them in banana leaves to symbolize the outer layer, and use pork filling to represent the parents who give birth.”
Lang Lieu woke up and followed the instructions to make the cakes for King Hung. The king enjoyed the cakes and asked about their meaning. After hearing his son’s story, the king was deeply touched and named the cake “Banh chung” to represent the square Earth and “Banh Giay” to represent the round Heaven.
Since then, on New Year’s Day, the king ordered the people to make these two types of cakes as offerings to their ancestors, praying for a prosperous year with abundant crops.
For foreigners who want to know about banh chung, some may refer to it as “Chung cake.” However, if foreigners have lived in Vietnam for a long time and have tasted this dish, they will understand that it is called banh chung.
When abroad, if you still refer to it as “Chung cake,” people will understand it as a type of flour-based cake, similar to sponge cakes or birthday cakes popular in many countries.
Therefore, to help international friends understand what banh chung is, always call it “banh chung” and explain its ingredients and preparation process. Similarly, words like “sushi” or “pizza” remain the same in different countries, just like banh chung and banh tet.
2Meaning of banh chung and banh day during Tet
Along with the ancient legend, banh chung and banh giay represent the wet rice agricultural civilization of the past.
Banh chung is wrapped in dong leaves, which are found in nature, and made with sticky rice, green beans, onions, pork, and other traditional ingredients. The presence of banh chung on New Year’s Day expresses gratitude to heaven and earth for favorable weather, which leads to bountiful harvests and a prosperous life for the people.
Banh chung during Tet also symbolizes filial piety towards parents. The tradition of offering banh chung as a gift to parents originates from this belief.
On the other hand, banh giay has a round shape, a white color, and a dome-shaped top resembling the sky. Ancient Vietnamese believed that the sky was the abode of the gods. Cakes were often offered to the heavens, praying for good weather and a warm year.
3Description and characteristics of the two types of cakes
Banh chung is made from simple and easily accessible ingredients such as sticky rice, dong leaves, minced meat, and green beans.
The combination of flavors in banh chung, including the sticky aroma of glutinous rice, the sweetness of green beans, the richness of fatty meat, and the aromatic taste of pepper, onion, and dong leaves, creates a scientifically balanced and creatively harmonious blend suitable for the nutritional needs of all ages.
Glutinous rice dumpling
The most common type of banh chung is the plain white one without filling, about the size of a palm and 1 to 2 cm thick.
Every two cakes are paired together. It is common to eat banh chung with pork rolls, beef rolls, cinnamon rolls, shrimp, and other side dishes.