Another Turning Vietnamese Post, in which I attempt to vainly maintain my grasp of my cultural identity through pursuing the cuisine of my ancestors. This post is something of a follow up to what should have been titled Turning Vietnamese Episode 0: Lunar New Year: Bánh Chưng.
This time we’ll be looking at the sky counterpart to the Banh Chung’s earthliness, Banh Day (roughly pronounced Zay in the northern dialect, yay in the southern). The story that I didn’t tell you last time is that these two dishes collectively are a key element of a story of who gets to rule Vietnam.
I’ll paraphrase this great backstory from Culture-4-Travel (check it out if you want a long read); The King of Vietnam issued a challenge to his many, many sons from his many, many women, that whoever brought him back the best dish would rule the kingdom afterwards. The winner was a humble fellow who stayed in Vietnam and was taught these dishes by a goddess, Banh Chung representing the earth with it's flatness and greenness, the Banh Day representing the heavens with its whiteness and roundness. The king, overpowered by this amazing symbolism, pronounced humble home loving prince the winner, and everyone lived happily ever after.
I’ll try not to point out the many issues I have with this story, like how this story tells the tired tale of divine intervention leading to who rules the land. Neither will I reveal my skepticism of how no other dishes brought back would beat out Banh Chung and Banh Day in taste and how his brothers were either highly incompetent in food selection (I guess no one found a decent cake or sandwich) or the whole scheme was a sham and the king would have picked the winner regardless of what he brought him because it was predetermined from the beginning, as many government job placements tend to be, with the whole proceedings of a hiring process being a farce that’s held for legal reasons only.
Wow, that was really bitter. No, I don’t really hate Banh Day or anything, I just think it’s not the most amazing thing ever in Vietnamese cuisine. That said, I can’t deny it’s cultural significance to my culture, and really, it’s great road trip food.
I’m using an authentic recipe taught to me by my mother. I can prove it by showing you this, the handwritten ingredient list in my mother’s recipe book with no instruction on how to do it whatsoever. Thankfully, she showed me how, and now I can show you. So if you see other Banh Day in various states of preparation in the pictures, those are the superior mom versions compared to my clumsy son versions.