HANOI, Feb. 7 (Xinhua) -- Most of the nations around the world often have their own traditional dishes for special events, and Vietnam is no exception.
In Vietnam, making glutinous rice cakes, or traditional Chung cake as called by the Vietnamese people, is an indispensable preparation for the Lunar New Year festival. As a result, Chung cake is always present among other Vietnamese traditional dishes throughout the holiday.
According to the legend, Chung cake was first made by Prince Lang Lieu, a son of Hung King, who is said to wear the crown some 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. The prince made Chung cakes in square shape and Day cakes in round shape to symbolize the Earth and the sky respectively, and offered them to the king to express his respect and gratitude for parents, and also to thank Gods for blessing bumper harvests during the year.
The tradition has been well preserved by the Vietnamese people nationwide although the way they make the cakes is different depending on regions where they live. Northern Vietnamese make the Chung cake in square shape, while the southerners or ethnic people in mountainous areas wrap the cakes in a round shape.
"I make Chung cakes for my family usually during Tet holidays and maybe as gifts to my close friends. They are special Tet gifts, actually," Nguyen Van Ky, a 67-year-old man, told Xinhua recently in Hanoi.
Ky said he has three children, and each will have some couples of cakes to put on the ancestor altar during the New Year.
According to Ky, making Chung cake requires simple materials and ingredients which can be found in every market in Vietnam. They comprise glutinous rice, mung bean, fatty pork spiced with salt, onion, fish sauce and pepper, which are all wrapped in phrynium leaves before being boiled for at least 10 hours.
To have a quality cake, preparations for the making are time- consuming. The glutinous rice and mung bean must be soaked in water for a couple of hours to make them soft, while pork must be well-marinated with pepper, onion and salt for a good taste.
Not everyone can wrap the Chung cakes, because the phrynium leaves are easy to be torn while containing inside the full materials almost 1 kilogram in weight in a nice shape.
"Chung cake is wrapped in the following orders," Ky explained the necessary steps. "First to arrange clean phrynium leaves on a flat floor; then pour the first layer of soaked glutinous rice on the leaves; put mung bean and pork above the rice, and finally cover them with another layer of mung bean and rice before wrapping them in square shape."
"The wrapped cakes are put into a large pot and boiled for around eight to 10 hours," said Ky, adding that the boiled cakes can last well for at least a half month.
A hard job, really, however making Chung cake for Tet is an opportunity for family reunion after a year long of hard work. Parents, children and grandchildren would love to sit besides the Chung cake boiling stove, recalling stories of their work and study in the past year.
Nowadays, in big cities like capital Hanoi and southern Ho Chi Minh City, the bustle lifestyle has made the custom of making Chung cake at home to be ignored. People can buy well-boiled Chung cake at any markets for their Tet meals.
However, many people, like Ky and his family, still maintain the tradition alive, as they said they want to teach the young generations of the country's history and traditional customs, and to feel an atmosphere of the real traditional Vietnamese Tet.
"As the Lunar New Year is coming, everybody is happy, especially children, as they can taste various kinds of traditional food, including square and round Chung cakes. We try to keep the tradition of making Chung cakes for the Lunar New Year so that our children can feel Tet atmosphere in its fullest manner, " Ky said.