Unique flavour of vegetarian chung cakes on Tet

Friday, 2019-02-08 17:59:20
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Vegetarian chung cakes with pandan leaf flavour, with the cake-filling made from red pumpkin, lotus seeds, and crystalised candied winter melon. (Photo: Des Khang)
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NDO – During the traditional Lunar New Year (Tet) festival, instead of enjoying the traditional chung cakes with traditional flavours from glutinous rice, mung beans and pork, you can also enjoy extraordinary vegetarian chung cakes.

They are made with fragrant glutinous sticky rice with tastily rich gac fruit flavour and the aroma of crystalised candied winter melon, or fragrant pandan leaf flavour mixed with the sweet taste of pumpkin and lotus seeds. A piece of vegetarian chung cakes also helps us savour the Tet flavour.

Talking about how to make vegetarian chung cakes, artisan Tran Tuyet Mai, who has a long-time tradition of making chung cakes and xoi (steamed sticky rice) of Tuong Mai village, Hanoi, said that in the past ten years, many families like to order vegetarian chung cakes as offerings to ancestors and to enjoy during the Lunar New Year. Every Tet holiday, Mai receives a few hundred orders for making vegetarian chung cakes. The cakes are hot dishes from the mid-final month of the old lunar year until Tet. Not only the elderly, many young people also like to eat vegetarian chung cakes on Tet.

Vegetarian chung cakes have two tastes that can easily satisfy customers, including vegetarian chung cakes made of pumpkin and lotus seeds, and also gac fruit flavour chung cakes with mung beans and water melon jam. During Tet, many also want to have vegetarian chung cakes with a little bit of raisins, or cashew nuts for a rich flavour on Tet.

Tran Tuyet Mai instructs on how to make vegetarian chung cakes.

Mai confided, making vegetarian chung cakes is easy but not really a piece of cake. The preparation for making cakes is also quite meticulous, as it lasts for multiple stages. It is a must to choose high quality sticky rice and fresh ingredients to help the cakes to be preserved for a long time. The rice should be rinsed well and soaked thoroughly in water for about four hours, before draining it thoroughly. The gac mixed with the rice should be a bright red colour, with a pinch of salt to make the cakes taste rich. Mung beans should be yellow beans, soaked softly and boiled, then ground and kneaded into small balls. Next is to choose soft winter melon jam, then soak it through hot water to reduce the sweetness to be ready for cake-filling. The gac fruit flavoured vegetarian chung cakes are very suitable with cake-filling from mung beans and winter melon.

Mai also created a different vegetarian chung cakes with pandan leaf flavour in another recipe. With this kind of cake, glutinous rice is soaked in pandan leaf water to create an attractive green colour for the cake. Pumpkins are steamed and then finely ground and kneaded into small balls. Pumpkin does not need to be mixed with sugar, just a little white salt is added to keep its pure sweet taste. In addition, it is also necessary to choose quality lotus seeds and winter melon jam to mix with the pumpkin into cake-filling.

Vegetarian chung cakes can be wrapped in dong leaves, or banana leaves if dong leaves are in shortage. Because vegetarian cakes are made in smaller sizes, at only about 300gr, the time needed for boiling the cakes is also shorter. However, when boiling, attention should be paid on the level of water, as, if the water runs out, it should be supplemented immediately to ensure that the cakes are not burnt. Well-cooked and boiled vegetarian chung cakes can keep for several days.

Vegetarian chung cakes with gac fruit flavour, with the cake-filling made from mung bean paste, crystalised candied winter melon and raisins (Photo: Des Khang).

Mai said, since her childhood, she has been learning how to make chung cakes for her mother to sell. Vegetarian chung cakes were often made in a smaller size than cakes with pork, so that people could easily enjoy them. The secret to making good vegetarian chung cakes that can be preserved for a long time is to choose quality rice and soak it thoroughly. When wrapping the cakes, it is necessary to pack them tightly, otherwise the cakes will be crushed. Boiled cakes after being removed from boiled water should be erected to drain out the remaining water.

On the occasion of Tet holiday, Mai is always busy with orders for vegetarian chung cakes and traditional xoi gac, especially from the full moon day of the last month of the lunar year, until the 28th and 29th day of the month, even until the last day of the year if the orders are huge. Customers often order both kinds of vegetarian chung cakes, perhaps because they want to enjoy the various flavours of this cake.

Mai added that she was born in Tuong Mai village - a locale with a long-time tradition of making xoi. Several generations of her family have been in Tuong Mai and learned how to cook sticky rice and make chung cakes for a long time. Perhaps because of that, she also learned the secrets of making delicious sticky rice and chung cakes.

Tran Tuyet Mai instructs a foreigner on how to make vegetarian chung cakes.

Mai’s son, Khang Huy, shared that from his family traditional products, he encouraged and always sought ways to help his mother to bring her products to more customers. As young people of the next generation today, who understand the trends and tastes of their friends, Khanh said to his mother to seek ways to make vegetarian chung cakes with traditional flavours. Thanks to research and a lot of changing of the ingredients, Huy and his mother finally found a suitable taste that best matches both creative and traditional requirements.

The story of Tran Tuyet Mai's vegetarian chung cakes is also filled with memories of a difficult period, and also bears traditional values in a dish that harmonises colours and flavours. Certainly, vegetarian chung cake is worth-tasting for many people during the traditional Tet holiday.

The completed vegetarian chung cakes.

Young people also like to learn how to make vegetarian chung cakes.