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May 18, 2009          1617 views

Banh khuc is a traditional cake that originated in the Red River Delta hundreds of years ago and in Bac Ninh province it is considered more than just a snack – there it symbolises faithfulness and nobility.

It was originally made as a special dish to offer guests at religious rituals or festivals of Quan Ho (traditional love duets) along with betel and areca. Made from glutinous rice and filled with green bean, pork, herbs and spices, banh khuc looks rather like onigiri, the Japanese rice-ball.
Cudweed is also a crucial ingredient for banh khuc. There are two kinds of cudweed – one is called nep and the other te. The former is more flexible and fragrant and usually preferred for making banh khuc. The quality and fragrance of cudweed varies from place to place as it depends on the quality of the soil. Cudweed leaves are picked at dawn when still wet with dew.
The leaves are washed, ground then mixed with husked glutinous rice, which is ground into a paste. Green beans, pork, dried onion and pepper are mixed together and rolled into balls, which are covered by a thin layer of cudweed and rice paste. Finally, the cakes are sprinkled with grains of glutinous rice known as “clothes”.
The balls are then steamed and should be served hot and dipped in a mixture of roasted and crushed sesame seeds and salt. “Banh khuc is truly delicious. I will never forget the taste until the day I die!” says Pham Thi Thoa, a pensioner from Hanoi’s Hang Hanh street. At VND6,000 a pop, banh khuc is the perfect snack that can be eaten morning, noon and night.
But as time goes by it is increasingly difficult to find cudweed as fields are eaten up by urbanisation and the plant has apparently been adversely affected by certain kinds of fertilisers used in the countryside. Although you can still find banh khuc in Hanoi, purists will complain that many producers are not using cudweed but cabbage, kohlrabi or morning-glory instead, and of course, that’s just not the same thing at all! For that reason older generations complain that it is very difficult to find genuine banh khuc nowadays.
The most famous banh khuc are arguably made by 50-year-old Nguyen Thi Lan, who sells her produce on Nguyen Cong Tru, Son Tay and Yen Phu streets. According to Lan each shop sources cudweed in provinces neighbouring Hanoi. In spring the plant can be found in ample abundance but must be dried and stored so stocks will last through summer and winter.
The best cudweed in Vietnam is said to come from Ngoai Hoang village in the outskirts of Hanoi (formerly Ha Tay province) thanks to the village’s wonderfully fertile soil. Good cudweed means good banh khuc so the local village is full of banh khuc producers who travel to Hanoi to sell their produce.
“We have our own ways of making banh khuc. But basically you need to use quality cudweed and can’t mix it with morning glory, cabbage or kohlrabi,” says one vendor, Nguyen Thi Van from Ngoai Hoang. “You will see, my cake is very fresh, fragrant and tasty!” “I usually earn VND150,000 a day but I have to work round the clock,” she adds.
“Some people are like addicts and have to eat banh khuc every day. I even have some customers who will pay me in advance!”

Source: VietNamNet//Timeout