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Rice and Noodles

Banh It (Little cake)
Bánh ít is one of specialties of the central in Vietnam, commonly used in regional death anniversaries and marriage rituals as well, but now it has become a snack that you can enjoy anytime.  There are two versions of bánh ít: the sweet one is called “bánh ít lá gai” and the salty one is known as “bánh ít tôm thịt”, both of which are unique and appetizing. The sweet cake is simply a mung bean paste ball covered by dough made from the mixture of grounded “gai” leaves, sugar and sticky rice flour. Sweetened ground coconut sometimes is used instead of mung bean. After folding banana leaves into a cone shape, the ball into it and then fold in four sides, creating a pyramid shaped cake. Steaming is the last step to bring out the cake a glossy deep black color stemming from “gai” leaves, a sweet taste of sugar, mung bean and glutinous rice, and a delicate aroma of banana leaves and “gai” leaves.  For the salty cake, minced pork meat, prawn, mashed mung bean onion and seasonings are stirred fried until well-done and thick to make the filling and the dough is only made of rice flour. The cake could be either traditionally wrapped into banana leaves or not. Indeed, both versions of little cake are so mouthwatering and small so you could hardly imagine how fast you relish the whole cake, but enjoying them gradually is much better, of course. “bánh ít lá gai” : the specialty of Bình Định province “bánh ít tôm thịt”: a representative of Hue cuisine.
Banh Duc (Plain rice flan)
 It is considered one of the most rustic and simple cakes in Hanoi cuisine, but the way to serve it varies thanks to Hanoian gastronomists. “Bánh đúc lạc” is the most popular in the north. The main ingredients are non-glutinous rice flour or corn-flour and peanut. Firstly, grind soaked rice with water in a grist mill; next, add lime juice to the flour solution with fine proportion to bring the cake a certain glutinous degree; then boil the solution, add peanuts to enhance nutty flavor, and stir it continuously to prevent it being burnt. When well-done, bánh đúc has a jelly shape and mild flavor. It is served either hot or cold, commonly with soy sauce and sometimes with tofu. The buttery taste of peanut, rice flour, the spicy sweet flavor of soy sauce and the cool of soft tofu are mingled perfectly together to bring us a cool dish in hot days. It is also interesting to relish a hot bow of bánh đúc topped with ground pork, grilled ground spawns, fried onions, roasted sesame seeds and herbs, called “bánh đúc thịt”, a good treat in the winter. In the southern, instead of being ivory-white, bánh đúc is distinctive itself with green color extracted from fragrance grass and the cool sweet taste coming from syrup or coconut juice.
Com chay( burned rice)
It is a natural and simple dish but very yummy and attractive. Cơm Cháy  is made from steamed rice sliced into flat round shapes. After drying, slices of steamed rice are fried in hot oil pan until they turn yellow and crisp. Together with main ingredient, steamed rice, are beef, pig’s heart or kidney, some vegetables like mushroom, tomato, carrot  and spices such as” nước mắm”, pepper, red chili, onion, salt. Beef and pig’s heart or kidney are thinly sliced, marinated with such spices and mixed with vegetables . Then the mixture is  fried until fragrant and put into Cơm Cháy bowl. The method of cooking Cơm Cháy is quite simple but through skilful makers it becomes one of the most famous specialty of Ninh Binh. To make good dish, we also need  experience in choosing ingredients, especially rice. Rice to make this dish is glutinous rice named “ Hương” which has pure and round grains helping the dish get extra flavor. Cơm Cháy should be supported heat by charcoal and during cooking , we keep suitable heat to create burned rice  with equal thickness around the bottom of the deep pot . It is one of the most difficult step in cooking. After that, burned rice is put out to dry in the sun several times  and preserved in fresh places to avoid mouldy state and keep its flavor. The dish is best served with goat meat and Kim Son wine. Each bowl of Cơm Cháy  is perfect combination  of the crispness of yellow burned rice , greasy taste of meat and the freshness of vegetables that wake up visitors ‘taste and take them from world to world.
Xoi Ngu Sac (five-colored steamed glutinous rice)
Almost all tourists are drawn by its irresistible attraction, an eye-catching appearance with five vibrant colors. And after the first try, they are definitely charmed by its sticky, sweet and elegant flavor. Much more interesting is discovering significant meanings that colors represent for: white is for Metal, green is for Wood, yellow is for Earth, red is for Fire and black is for Water. Accordingly, the dish is symbolic of the harmony of nature. The cooking process is quite similar to that of other steamed sticky rice; however, the dying process takes a lot of time and effort. The colors all originate from leaves of different forest trees that are ground or boiled to exact the colors. What is more, the forest tree leaves are often used as restorative medicines by the locals; therefore, please do not hesitate to try this delicious and healthy dish!
Thuan Hung rice-paper producing town
Thuan Hung town is about 40 km Northwest from the center of Can Tho city. This town is famous for its traditional rice-paper which is indispensable in many Vietnamese traditional dishes, especially Spring Roll. When you reach the town, your first impression will be the white color of rice-paper which is present in front of many houses. Walking through the narrow street in the town, the smell of the floor can awake your olfactory. Rice –paper making has been the tradition for generations in this town. This job has helped people in earning their living. They make rice-paper the whole year, especially at Tet holiday, when the demand of this food rises high. It is not very difficult to make a rice-paper by your own but it requires skillful movements of hand and experience to make the rice-paper in good shape. They use special tools to make the round shape while boiling it. For a skilled maker, it takes 20 seconds to finish one. After finishing the making, the rice-paper is dried under the sunlight for 2 days. There are many kinds of rice-papers which require different recipes and techniques. You will be impressed by the friendliness of people here. You can stop by any house and watch people make the rice-paper. They even ask you to try and eat for free. Since this is not a tourist destination, you can feel a real traditional life here.
Five-color Sticky Rice
Five-color Sticky Rice is an important dish of almost all ethnic minorities in the mountainous regions of Northern Vietnam. The name of the dish comes from the fact that it has 5 colors. However, different regions can call this dish differently. For example, the Muong ethnic group calls it Multi-color Sticky Rice; the Tay ethnic group calls it Five-color Sticky Rice, some other ethnic groups call it Dam Den Sticky Rice, etc. On the festival days or other special occasion, women find the leaves which produce different colors to make this special and interesting cuisine. In a nutshell, the thing that creates the color of the rice is not chemical substance but the natural leaves. The five colors of the dish represent the five elements of life in the Vietnamese’s’ belief: yellow is earth, green is plant, red is fire, white is metal, and black is water. People believe that the existence of these five elements create the well-being of the heaven, the earth the human. Thus, in order to make the desired color, they have to find and gather the exact leaves. These leaves are then boiled before being put in a huge bowl with rice to create different colors. In the past, whenever they need to make Five-color Sticky Rice, the women had to go to the forests to look for them. Luckily, nowadays, five-color sticky rice has become not only a traditional cuisine but also a delicious speciality that travelers from everywhere love. As a result, people decided to grow the trees right in their garden and then sell the leaves at the market. These naturally colorful leaves will then be used to make the wonderful sticky rice that enchants everyone.
Lam Rice
Lam Rice is considered as the food that represents Tay Nguyen, because it embraces the most elegant taste of the cool streams and the fragrance of the borderless bamboo forests. Originally, Lam Rice was invented by the men who had to go on extremely long trips into the forest. Among their equipment, a bamboo pipe full of Lam Rice was their most valuable asset. Nowadays, Lam Rice has become not only a daily food, but also a speciality which tourists from everywhere find tempting and irresistible. Making the right Lam Rice dish requires meticulousness. First of all, we have to find the right kind of bamboo which tastes and smells like corn. After washing the bamboos, we cut them into small pieces (about 20cm each). The rice used to make Lam Rice is called Khau Tan, which is white, soft, and sweet-smelling. We pour the rice into a bowl of transparent stream water, add salt and mix them all together. Rice is then ed into the pipes and grilled. This combination of rice and fresh water of the forest creates a dish that has the special taste of the wilderness and the capability to mesmerize anyone who is lucky enough to try only one bite. When the rice is cooked, we must skillfully removes the burned outer layers until there is only one thin layer of bamboo covering the rice. Each pipe of rice is then cut again into 5 to 7 pieces. When eating, we only have to remove the thin bamboo layer. Even though each person appreciates Lam Rice in his own way, it is widely known and agreed that the rice tastes best with grilled chicken or grilled pork (which are also grilled in bamboo pipes) and especially with roasted sesame and salt!
Hu Tieu Noodle in Sa Dec
A district in Dong Thap, Sa Dec is most famous for its unique cuisines which reflect the remarkable culture and traditions of the southern province. In Sa Dec, you can find a plethora of delicious traditional dishes such as Beef Hotpot, Spring Roll, and especially Hu Tieu Noodle. Hu Tieu is a type of noodle with seasoned and sauté beef. Even though it is not as popular as Hu Tieu Nam Vang and Hu Tieu My Tho, the Hu Tieu dish of Sa Dec still has a special position in the list of many gourmets. The most important ingredient, the noodle used in this dish must be milky white, soft, sticky and fragrant. The sauce is usually made with pig bones. It is pretty hard to make because the cook must maintain a medium temperature and continuously scoop the bubbles out of the boiling pot. The other important ingredients of the dish are the boiled meat including grinded lean meat, sliced lean meat, meat balls, etc. To decorate the bowl, the cook adds Vietnamese onion, cabbage, and coriander. Besides, eaters can also choose to have Hu Tieu with other fresh herbs and veggies, sauces, chilies if they want to. Nowadays, Hu Tieu is a popular and inexpensive dish in Sa Dec. You can find this dish almost everywhere in the district, but the most interesting restaurants usually locate on Tran Phu Street. One restaurant definitely worth your visit is “Hu Tieu of sister Dau” on Nguyen Tat Thanh Street.
Tam Rice
Originated from Dien Bien, Tám Rice is a famous speciality of MuongThanh Valley. No matter who you are or where you come from, in Dien Bien, you would be just as amazed by this wonderful dish as the local people and other travellers. Tám Rice in Dien Bien has become well-known for a long time. Grown naturally, the rice typically has 4.5mm to 5mm long seed, each of which is as transparent as water and as fragrant as a flower. When cooking, we have to pay great attention so that the rice is moderately soft. Thus, the rice would not get hard when it cools down, or break down when we have it with soup. Eating a well-cooked bowl of Tám Rice, you would not only satisfy yourself with the gentle taste of the rice but also conjure up in your mind the images of TayBac forests and mountains.
Banh Chung (Chung cake or square rice cake)
History and Legend The origin of Banh Chung can be traced to Hong Bang Dynasty – when the 6th Hung Emperor ruled the land. Sadly thinking he was too old to lead the country, Hung Emperor wanted to find the one to inherit his position and sit on the throne. Therefore, he held a cooking contest for his 21 sons, and who could fully satisfy his taste would be the winner. Most princes set out on their journey to find special, exotic and far-fetched food, except for Lang Lieu – the 18th son of Hung King, also the poorest and loneliest since he lost his mother at a young age. Not having enough money to afford such delicacies, Lieu just stayed around his house. Thanks to the help of a fairy in his dream, Lieu came up with 2 types of cake called ‘Banh Chung’ and ‘Banh Day’ and started baking exactly like what he had been told. On a spring day on which all the princes’ labor had to be presented, Lang Lieu and his wife brought Banh Chung and Banh Day to the emperor while other princes presented such expensive and unusual dishes. Others sneered at Lieu’s cakes, but Hung Emperor was deeply impressed by the special flavor of these cakes. He asked Lieu about the meaning of these cakes. Lieu said that he had cooked the glutinous rice, then molded it into a round rice cake, and called it Banh Day as it symbolized the sky we live under; he also cooked a square rice cake, stuffed it with cooked bean paste and ground meat in the middle, and called it Banh Chung, which was symbolic of the earth we live on. After that, Hung Emperor decided that Lieu was the winner and passed his throne to him. Since then, Banh Chung and Banh Day become traditional foods during the Tet holiday. Banh Chung today Banh Chung can be served as it is or fried to make ‘Banh Chung Ran’ – a delicious for such cold February in Vietnam. In some other regions, especially the Southern part of Vietnam, Banh Chung can be wrap in a cylindral shape with same ingredients, called ’Banh Tet’. A similar one to Banh Tet is ‘Banh Tay’ or ‘Banh Chung Dai’ (Long Banh Chung), served solely in the North with mung bean and little or no pork, hence, can be preserved for a longer period. There are also many variations of Banh Chung according to regions, religions and likings such as Banh Chung Gu (Humped Banh Chung) of San Diu people, Banh Chung Chay (Vegetarian Banh Chung) for vegetarians and Buddhists, Banh Chung Ngot (Sweetened Banh Chung), etc. In traditional context, the process of making Banh Chung is an occasion for Vietnamese family members to get together. Sitting around the warm fire, talking and telling each other past stories, they get ready for a New Year with lots of good wishes. Although nowadays, not many Vietnamese families keep this habit anymore, Banh Chung is still an irreplaceable dish of Vietnamese ancestor altar on the occasion of Tet. It is the evidence of the Vietnamese loyalty and great gratitude to their ancestors. The importance of Banh Chung has already gone into poetry: ‘Thịt mỡ, dưa hành, câu đối đỏ Cây nêu, tràng pháo bánh chưng xanh’ Translation: ‘Rich meats, Salty onions, red couplets Nêu tree, firecracker, green banh chung’. Related Readings: Food for Vietnamese Tet holiday Boiled Chicken - An Essential Part of Vietnam Tet
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