Chung Cake – Square Sticky Rice Cake

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Chung cake, also known as Banh Chung in Vietnamese, is a traditional Vietnamese rice cake that is often made and consumed during the Lunar New Year, also known as Tet in Vietnam. It is a significant part of Tet celebrations and holds cultural significance.

This dish is made from glutinous rice, mung beans, pork, and other ingredients. The ingredients are wrapped tightly in banana leaves and then boiled or steamed for many hours. The result is a dense, square-shaped cake with a distinct aroma and flavor.

The process of making chung cake is quite labor-intensive and requires skill and patience. It is often made in large batches by families or communities, as it is a time-consuming process.

Banh Chung is traditionally eaten with pickled onions or mustard greens and is considered a symbol of prosperity and good fortune for the coming year. It is also often given as gifts to friends and family during Tet celebrations.

Chung Cake meaning in Vietnamese Lunar New Year

Chung cake is a symbol of tradition and heritage, with its origins tracing back thousands of years to Vietnamese folklore. Its enduring presence on the Tet table serves as a reminder of the country’s rich cultural heritage and the importance of preserving ancestral customs.

The process of making Chung cake often involves the collective effort of families or communities coming together to prepare and share this cherished delicacy. Its square shape symbolizes the earth, while the green banana leaves represent the arrival of spring. This unity in preparation reflects the spirit of togetherness and solidarity, fostering a sense of community and kinship among participants.

Banh Chung is traditionally made from simple ingredients such as glutinous rice, mung beans, and pork, reflecting the agricultural abundance of the land. Its consumption during Tet is believed to bring blessings of prosperity, abundance, and good fortune for the coming year. By partaking in this symbolic ritual, families express gratitude for the blessings received and invoke auspicious energies for a prosperous future.

This dish holds a special place in Vietnamese ancestral worship practices. It is often offered as a sacred offering to ancestors during Tet celebrations, symbolizing filial piety and respect for one’s heritage. By honoring their ancestors with offerings of Banh Chung, families seek blessings for their lineage and express gratitude for the sacrifices of previous generations.

Chung cake serves as a cultural touchstone that reinforces the unique identity of the Vietnamese people. Its preparation and consumption during Tet represent a continuation of time-honored traditions that have been passed down through generations, reinforcing a sense of cultural pride and belonging among Vietnamese communities worldwide.

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Chung Cake
Chung Cake

How to make Chung Cake

Chung Cake

Chung cake, or Bánh Chưng in Vietnamese, is a venerable culinary treasure deeply embedded in Vietnamese culture and tradition. This iconic rice cake holds profound significance, particularly during the Lunar New Year, known as Tết Nguyên Đán, which marks the most important festival in Vietnam.
Prep Time4 hours
Cook Time8 hours
2 hours
Total Time14 hours
Keyword: Chung Cake
Servings: 4 people
Author: Saitama

Ingredients

  • 2 cups glutinous rice
  • 1 cup split mung beans
  • 200 g pork belly or pork shoulder (diced into small pieces)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 4-5 shallots (finely chopped)
  • 4-5 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 4 sheets banana leaves, cleaned and cut into squares (about 10x10 inches)
  • Bamboo strings or cooking twine

Instructions

Prepare Ingredients:

  • Rinse glutinous rice and mung beans separately in cold water. Soak them in water for at least 4 hours or overnight.
  • In a bowl, season diced pork with salt, pepper, chopped shallots, and minced garlic. Mix well and let it marinate for at least 30 minutes.

Assemble Chung Cakes:

  • Take two banana leaf squares and place them on top of each other to create a stronger base for wrapping.
  • Drain the soaked glutinous rice and mung beans.
  • Place a layer of glutinous rice on the banana leaf, followed by a layer of mung beans, and finally a layer of marinated pork.
  • Fold the banana leaf around the ingredients to form a square packet. Secure tightly with bamboo strings or cooking twine.

Cook Chung Cakes:

  • Fill a large pot with water and bring it to a boil.
  • Carefully place the wrapped Chung cakes into the pot, ensuring they are fully submerged in water.
  • Reduce the heat to low and let the Chung cakes simmer for 4 to 5 hours. Make sure to check periodically and add more water if needed to keep the cakes submerged.
  • Alternatively, you can steam the Chung cakes in a steamer for 4 to 5 hours.

Serve:

  • Once cooked, carefully remove the Chung cakes from the pot or steamer and let them cool slightly.
  • Unwrap the banana leaves and slice the Chung cakes into pieces.
  • Serve warm with pickled onions, mustard greens, or your favorite dipping sauce.

How to wrap Chung Cake

Wrapping Chung cake (Bánh Chưng) requires careful technique to ensure that the ingredients are securely enclosed in banana leaves. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to wrap it:

Materials Needed:

  • Cleaned and softened banana leaves
  • Soaked glutinous rice
  • Soaked mung beans
  • Seasoned pork (optional)
  • Bamboo strings or cooking twine
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Instructions:

  1. Prepare Banana Leaves:
    • Cut banana leaves into squares of about 30×30 centimeters (12×12 inches) and clean them thoroughly. Pass them briefly over an open flame or soak them in hot water to soften.
  2. Layer Ingredients:
    • Lay two pieces of banana leaves on top of each other to create a stronger wrapping surface.
    • Start by placing a layer of soaked glutinous rice on the banana leaves, followed by a layer of soaked mung beans, and then a layer of seasoned pork (if using). Ensure the layers are evenly spread and cover the leaves.
  3. Fold Banana Leaves:
    • Fold the edges of the banana leaves over the layers of ingredients, bringing them to the center. Make sure the leaves are folded tightly to encase the filling completely.
  4. Shape Into a Square:
    • Press down gently on the folded banana leaves to flatten the mixture and shape it into a square. This will help ensure that the Chung cake cooks evenly.
  5. Wrap With Bamboo Strings:
    • Secure the wrapped Chung cake by tying it tightly with bamboo strings or cooking twine. Start by tying one end of the Chung cake, then wrap the string around it several times, and finally tie a knot to secure the other end.
  6. Trim Excess Leaves and Strings:
    • Trim any excess banana leaves and strings with scissors to give the Chung cake a neat appearance. This step is optional but can improve the presentation of the final product.

You can refer to the video below:

Chung Cake nutrition

The exact caloric content of Chung cake can vary based on factors such as the specific recipe, ingredient proportions, and serving size. However, I can provide an estimate of the caloric content of the cake based on its typical ingredients:

  • Glutinous rice: 1 cup of cooked glutinous rice contains approximately 168 calories.
  • Mung beans: 1 cup of cooked mung beans contains approximately 212 calories.
  • Pork: The caloric content of pork can vary depending on the cut and fat content. For lean cuts like pork loin, there are approximately 122 calories per 3-ounce (85-gram) serving.

Additionally, the banana leaves used for wrapping Chung cake contribute negligible calories.

To calculate the total caloric content of Banh Chung, you would need to determine the proportions of each ingredient used in the recipe and sum the calories accordingly. Keep in mind that this is just an estimate, and the actual caloric content may vary based on the specific recipe and cooking methods. If you’re looking for precise nutritional information, you may consider using a recipe analysis tool or consulting a registered dietitian.

Benefits of Chung Cake

Chung cake, a traditional Vietnamese rice cake enjoyed during Tet (Lunar New Year), offers several potential benefits, both cultural and nutritional:

  1. Cultural Significance: Chung cake is deeply ingrained in Vietnamese culture and traditions. Its preparation and consumption during Tet festivities symbolize unity, familial bonds, and ancestral reverence. Participating in the making and sharing of Chung cake fosters a sense of community and strengthens familial ties.
  2. Nutritional Value: While primarily a cultural delicacy, Chung cake contains ingredients that offer nutritional benefits. Glutinous rice provides carbohydrates for energy, mung beans offer plant-based protein, fiber, and essential vitamins and minerals, and pork (if included) contributes protein, B vitamins, and minerals like iron and zinc.
  3. Rich in Fiber: The combination of glutinous rice and mung beans in Chung cake provides dietary fiber, which supports digestive health, helps regulate blood sugar levels, and may aid in weight management by promoting satiety.
  4. Protein Source: Mung beans and pork (if included) are sources of protein, which is essential for muscle growth and repair, immune function, and overall health.
  5. Cultural Preservation: Enjoying Chung cake helps preserve Vietnamese culinary traditions and heritage. Passing down the art of making and sharing Chung cake from generation to generation ensures that cultural practices and values are upheld and celebrated.
  6. Gratitude and Connection: Sharing Chung cake with family, friends, and neighbors during Tet fosters feelings of gratitude, generosity, and connection. It provides an opportunity to express appreciation for loved ones and strengthen social bonds within the community.
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Overall, while the benefits of Chung cake extend beyond its nutritional content to encompass cultural and social aspects, its consumption during Tet celebrations contributes to a sense of joy, unity, and cultural pride among the Vietnamese people and those who partake in this beloved tradition.

Conclusion

Chung cake, or Bánh Chưng, is much more than a simple rice cake in Vietnamese culture—it’s a cherished symbol of tradition, unity, and prosperity. As a traditional delicacy enjoyed during Tet (Lunar New Year) celebrations, Chung cake brings families and communities together, fostering a sense of togetherness and ancestral reverence.

Beyond its cultural significance, Chung cake offers potential nutritional benefits, including fiber-rich ingredients like glutinous rice and mung beans, as well as protein from ingredients like pork. However, its true value lies in its ability to preserve Vietnamese culinary heritage and strengthen familial and social bonds.

By participating in the making and sharing of Chung cake, individuals not only honor their cultural roots but also express gratitude, generosity, and hope for the future. As generations continue to pass down the art of making Chung cake, this beloved tradition will remain a cornerstone of Vietnamese identity, enriching lives and bringing joy to countless celebrations for years to come.

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