Banh Chung and Banh Day -- Traditional Food of Vietnamese New Year
Very long time ago even before the Birth of Christ, King Hung Vuong VI of the Hong Bang
Dynasty, decided to retire from his throne after defeating the Chinese Invaders. He thought to
himself that he was too old to lead the country. It was time to choose his successor so that he
could enjoy the remaining days of his life in peace and leisure. So, one day he summoned all of
his sons and said to them:
"I am now too old to handle and lead the country and am very tired. I want to have
some peace of mind and enjoy the remaining days of my life in peace. I intend to
hand over the throne to one of you, but I don't know which one of you would have
the ability and wisdom to lead the country. So, I decided to test your heart of
conscience. Whoever among you could prepare the best dishes to offer to our
ancestors and also satisfy my taste shall be succeeded to the throne."
Upon hearing this, each prince set out on his journey to every corner of the kingdom to find
the most exotic, unusual, and far-fetched foods to present them to the King. Among the princes,
Prince Tiet Lieu was the youngest and poorest, but was the most devoted and considerate of all.
Unlike his brothers, he chose to stay home with his father. However, he so poor that he could
not afford to buy any exquisite dishes to offer to the ancestors and his father. He was very sad
and worried because he didn't know what to do. It wasn't because he wanted to succeed his
father's throne. He just wanted to make his father happy.
One night after thinking about ways to make his father happy again, Tiet Lieu was exhausted
and fell asleep. In his sleep, he saw an old man with white-silvered hairs approaching him and
"Your devout and caring has touched my heart very deeply. You truly deserved
the royal throne of your father. You don't have to go anywhere to find foods. It is
just a waste of time and money. Of all the foods, rice is the most precious and
valuable of all, yet very abundant. You find anywhere in your father's kingdom."
Said the Fairy. "Go and use glutinous rice. Cook it very thoroughly then mould it
into a round rice cake, and call it Banh Day. This will symbolize the sky you live
under. Then do the same for the square rice cake. Stuff cooked bean paste and
ground meat in the middle of the square rice cake and call it Banh Chung. This will
symbolize the earth. Present these cake to your father as offerrings to your
ancestors." Having said that, the Fairy disappeared.
After waking up, Prince Tiet Lieu was very happy and set out to do exactly what he was told
in the dream. The time came and King Hung Vuong summoned his sons again to find out what
kinds of foods they brought to him. After tasting each and every foods of Tiet Lieu's brothers,
the King shook his head in disappointment. However when the King ate the rice cake, he could
sense a very special flavor and taste that he had not ate before in his life. Tiet Lieu then
explained the meaning of each cake to his father. The King was so pleased that he decided to
give his throne to Prince Tiet Lieu. After that, King Hung Vuong VI ordered that this recipe be
passed out to all people in his kingdom.
As the result, it has been a widely known in the Vietnamese customs. Every year during the
New Year celebration, the Vietnamese people would cook Banh Chung and Banh Day and use
them as a special offerings to their ancestors as well as special gifts to relatives and friends
during the new year celebration. It has been the Vietnamese tradition until this day, even in this
Contributed by BoatPeople.com