Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Lunar New Year: Bánh Chưng!

And now, for something completely different, less of my own cooking. Those who know me may realize that I am Vietnamese. Those who know me a bit better know that in the great majority of instances, I cannot cook Vietnamese (or any other Asian) food to save my life. Ok, I could do it to save my life, but still, I don't consider myself versed in Vietnamese cooking at all.

This blog is no exception! But still, I will do my best to show a family event, in accordance with the season.

Bánh chưng is a dish commonly associated with Tếtonly also known as the Lunar New Year. The wiki artickle explains it better, but this is a dish meant to symbolize earth. Because it is flat you see. Bánh dày is what represents the sky, but at least in my family, that seems to be a bit less seasonal than this dish is.

As this post will illustrate, this is a rather labor intensive process. No wonder this is only done once a year! Having actually been around to help this year, I really can appreciate the work that goes into it. And I can see why other Vietnamese people take the easy way out by getting it at the store. Hopefully when I've established a family of my own, I'll be able to pass down this time honored tradition.

I'll attempt to describe the process as best I can. Note that I'm more in the field of crude help and simple tasks, so forgive me if you are an expert and I leave out too much.

The process starts early with some simple tasks. Soaking mung beans, cooking rice and pork.

Here we see some lovely mung beans which have been soaked. After this they are cooked for some time to soften.

Also important are banana leaves. Here you can see a set dad set up to clean them off and get rid of any odd residues, as we'll be using these for wrapping the actual ingredients.
This is my improvement upon the process, I pulled out one of my folding tables and set up shop. But Much easier on the back. Note the hose for keeping a clean water flow by the way, not my innovation. 
And wow! Clean banana leaves, more or less. They could still use a bit of a drying though. I cleaned so many banana leaves that day...

Trimming station to get the leaves just right.

And now we get into the production. We've got soaked rice, cooked pork and in the small white bowls, lightly sauteed onions.


The banana leaves are next painstakingly set up into little wooden frames, and then the bottom layer is filled with rice.

Then a layer crushed mung beans is set atop the rice.
Pretty isn't it? A layer of onion, then a layer of pork is added.
Then the process is reversed from here, with a layer on onions on top and beans again, then with more of the soaked rice.
Carefully wrap it.

And after some fancy fingerwork, tie it up! Sorry for missing the in between shots, but trust me when I say these three I actually did all on my own!

These are all thrown into a big pot and cooked for a long time. Overnight in our case, with everyone taking shifts to check the water to make sure these packages stayed submerged. Tiring work. And here's the finished product.

Hope you enjoyed this slightly different installment of Cast Iron Therapy, and let me say happy Lunar New Year and Chúc mừng năm mới! So if you haven't met your new years resolutions, think of this as an early second chance.

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