Sunday, February 4, 2018

Bánh Tét

The Lunar New Year for all the Asian countries that have a strong history with China is coming. February 16, 2018 starts the Tet celebrations. When I was a teenager, my parents and I was sitting at the dining room table enjoying a plate of banh tet. My father would tell me stories when he felt that I was old enough to understand and appreciate them. The few stories he had told me in the past, I remembered them to this day with clarity as if it didn't happen that long ago. I remember this story because they way he told me the story, he explained with the ingredients represented and how important it is to the story of Vietnam. My parent was the last generation that lived in the motherland, so when he told a story, I would try my best to remember it with the greatest of details.

The old king turned to his three sons and told them that he is dying. He hasn't decided who would succeed him to the throne. The old king told his sons to have their wives cook him a banquet and whoever has the most delicious meal, he will choose for the next king.

The eldest son spared no expense. His wife hired the kingdom's best cooks and chefs and presented to the king the grandest meal.

The middle son's wife had prepared the king a meal to please the King's palate that's perfectly seasoned and with personal touches that she knew that the king would love.

When it was the youngest prince's turn, the king was presented a plate of banh tet. The king was angry. He summoned the youngest couple and demanded they explain why they offered him only a humble plate.

The princess begged for the king's forgiveness. She explained that this is all she could afford with what is left in the budget. Instead of presenting the king a grand banquet, she presented him a meaningful meal representing things wonderful about the kingdom of Viet Nam. The rice represents the staple of the Vietnamese meal. The grains of rice give energy to the people who work and make the kingdom great. The green hue represents the great beauties of the rice paddies that cover the countryside. The mung bean represents the sun. The pork belly represents the great people in the 3 regions in the kingdom. She tied the package together with string to represent the king that holds these things together.

The king was so impressed with the princess explanation and thought about her story as he ate the banh tet. He was so impressed with how simple and delicious it was. The king decided that the youngest prince would succeed him to the throne. The king explained that the wealth of the kingdom isn't measured in the gold and treasures but measured in the prosperity of its people.

2kg bag glutinous rice

3 cups of split mung bean

9 pieces pork belly with skin attached 4-6 inches long and 1 inch thick

1 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

3-4 Tbsp fish sauce

5-6 stems green onions, whites only

1 pkg banana leaves

kitchen string


-Start off the day or 2 before by prepping the pork belly. Make sure to wash the pieces well and pat them dry. Smash the green onion whites and place them into a gallon size zip top bag or large bowl. Add the black pepper, fish sauce, and pork belly. Marinade in the fridge. Make sure to turn the pieces to ensure even marination.

-Soak the rice overnight, Prepare the banana leaves. If you have fresh, just wipe it clean. If you have frozen, let it sit in water until it is softens. Rinse the leaves well and wipe them remove any debris.

-Prepare the mung bean by cooking it in the rice pot with the water level the same as the beans. Add a pinch of salt before cooking. When finish, stir the beans to break it up.

-Drain the rice and add a pinch of salt and toss to distribute it.

-Lay down a 12x12 piece of foil. Place a piece of banana leaf on top. Add about 1 cup of rice and spread to make a rectangular shape. Next add enough beans to make a smaller rectangle that fits in rice. Add a marinated piece of pork belly. Add another layer of beans to roughly cover the pork belly. Add another 1 cup of rice to cover. Pick up the ends of the foil (top and bottom) and bring them together. Tap the sides to bring the package to a round shape. Roll the ends together to enclose the package, making it look like a big cigarette. Fold one end over and bring the other end up, so that you can fold down the ends. Think of this like wrapping a present. Fold down the ends as tightly as possible. Carefully bring the other end up and repeat. Tie the roll up tightly so that the package will not expand when you are cooking it and explode out of the packaging. Repeat. This recipe should yield about 8-9 logs.

-Place the logs into a large pot. Cover with water. If you are boiling the traditional way, it would take about 8 hours. The InstaPot is about 2 hours with natural release. Remove immediately afterwards and sit it on its end for about an hour to dry.

-When you are ready to eat, peel away the foil and the banana leaves. Use thread or fishing line to cut the banh tet.

There is two ways I ate this when I was growing up. One could eat it just as is with pickles and soy sauce. Or you can fry them up crispy. Enjoy!