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Only home-made food can bring tears to your eyes

Passport & Plate - Chung cake

Vietnam | Thursday, 5 March 2015 | 5 photos

(to make two 15x15x6 cm cakes)
1 kg of sticky rice (a.k.a. sweet rice or glutinous rice)
500 g of pork belly, with the skin on
500 g of mung bean, without skin
500 g of banana leaves
Black pepper
Fish sauce
Fresh garlic (or granulated garlic)
A clean cheesecloth
Any kind of strings used for cooking, cut them into 40 cm pieces A square frame (this is hard to purchase outside of Vietnam so you can make it yourself out of carton paper)

How to prepare this recipe:
Soak rice & bean in water for 8 hours.
Wash & clean banana leaves, cut into 10x15cm strips. Cover with a damp tower to prevent them from drying out.
Cut the pork to big chunks. Marinate for 4 hours with: fish sauce, pepper, shallot, fresh/granulated garlic.
Cook up a small piece of pork and taste it to see if the seasoning needs adjusting.
Drain the rice & bean.
Steam the bean from 15 to 20 mins, season it with pepper & a pinch of salt. Leave it to cool down just enough handle.
Put the bean onto the cheesecloth, wrap it up to make a pouch & knead it to smash the bean inside until the bean has reached the wet sand consistency.
Set two strings down on the surface crossed each other in the middle.
Place the frame on top of the strings.
Fold a banana leaf like in the photo. Set it in one corner of the frame. Repeat this to form 7 more corners. Four corners should be covered with 2 layers of leaves. It's to prevent the water from going inside & making the cake soggy.
Place another leaf on each side w/ a part inside the frame & a part hanging out of the frame, shiny side up. The banana leaves are used not only as a wrapping material but also a natural green dye for the rice.
Put the ingredients inside the frame with layers like this: rice, bean, pork, bean, rice.
Place two more banana leaves crossed each other on top and orderly fold in all hanging banana leaves into the middle.
Keep one hand on top, use the other hand to take out the frame. Keep the frame hanging on your shoulder while you tie up the cake.
Use more strings to tie up the cake afterward.
Submerge the cake completely in the water and it should be kept that way throughout the cooking.
Place a heavy object on top of the cake so it does not float around while cooking.
The cake should be cooked constantly in boiling water for 6-7 hours. When the water evaporates, put in hot water so the temperature won't drop.
After finishing cooking, take out the cake, and set it aside to dry.

The story behind this recipe:
This is among many traditional dishes for the celebration of Lunar New Year in Vietnam (Tet, as we call it). I made this Chung cake for a Tet 2015 dinner with international friends in Jyväskylä, Finland so that they could have an authentic experience with Vietnamese food. I decided to make a Chung cake because there would be no Tet without it. As my friends asked how I had made the cake, I jokingly told them it had been made entirely with love. It really was. I prepared the ingredients one day ahead and stayed up a whole night for it. This is often how we make Chung cakes in Vietnam though. The whole family gathers to prepare banana leaves, wrap up the cakes and take turn to watch over it during the night.
Chung cakes often go as a pair with another type of sticky rice cake called Giay cake, which is similar to Japanese mochi. The round and white Giay cakes symbolize sky. The square and green Chung cakes symbolize earth. Thanks to the richness of the soil offered by Mother Earth, we are able to grow plants (rice and mung bean), and raise livestock (pork), all wrapped up in the greenery (banana leaves) of Mother Nature. The ingredients are accessible to everyone in Vietnam even the poorest. In the legend about the origin of this cake, it is said to be dedicated to all mothers and fathers because the wrapping of the cake symbolizes the protection of parents over the children.
The fact that I figured out the recipe myself makes it very special to me. Living abroad for an extended amount of time, the longing for Vietnamese food drove me crazy at some point. But I told myself there was no point sitting around and moaning about it. I decided to do some research and came up with this recipe, using what I had available in Finland.
During the dinner, an older friend who was doing his PhD in Germany and had not had Chung cake for years himself, exclaimed happily that it tasted just like in Vietnam. I believed that for a brief moment, the cake brought us closer to home.

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