Nothing makes me feel the Tết spirit more than a gathering of the family to make bánh chưng or bánh tét followed by a 6 hour bull session around the fire while bánh is cooking. My family haven’t done it since we moved to the States though. A couple of years ago, Bird’s parents taught me how to roll bánh tét, so this year we decided to revive the tradition ourselves.
The night before: we soaked 1 bag of glutinous rice in water mixed with lá dứa (pandan leaf) juice (pandan leaves blended in water and strained), soaked shelled mung bean in water, and marinated strips of pork belly in fish sauce and black pepper.
The following day we had more prep work to do. The soaked beans were boiled in water and mushed, resulting in the two big bowls of yellow paste in the picture below. (You begin to see why this is a family activity? There’s more prep work yet.)
Next, we drained and seasoned the sticky rice until it was salty to the taste and then mixed in half a can of coconut milk. While the rice marinated, we washed previously frozen banana leaves thoroughly, wiped them dry (this took a lot of time, so plan accordingly), then cut them into foot long sections. Now we’re ready to roll.
Oh wait, we should have cut cooking twine into 5 ft long sections (1 per bánh tét to be rolled) and 3 ft long sections (4 per). Ah well.
3 layers of banana leaves are laid down: the first and third layer are oriented with their veins perpendicular to the long side of bánh tét; the middle layer is parallel to it. Next a layer of rice is laid down, then a smaller layer of bean paste, then a strip of pork belly (see above).
Now in reverse – a layer of bean paste, then a layer of rice (not shown). Imagine a Mississippian mound for pork belly royalty:
Next we folded all three layers of banana leaves over and start rolling and tightening:
With a somewhat tight roll bound by banana leaves, we folded close one end so the cylinder can be stood up and be topped off with a layer of sticky rice. The top end we folded close more neatly, then flipped the cylinder over and repeated the process for the other end.
Binding: First we used the 5 ft long twine to bind the 4 sides lengthwise, crossing at the bottom and tying off on the top side. Next each of the 3 ft long section of twine was looped under and around each of the 4 lengthwise sections of twine, tied off under and above one of the 4 designated the main vein. The excess twine is pulled up parallel to the main vein and tied down when the next horizontal section is bound. Eventually all the loose ends are tied up on top become a bánh tét handle:
Goto “3 layers of banana leaves are laid down …” until out of ingredients:
When all the packing and rolling were all done, we placed bánh tét vertically like fission rods in a tall pot of water. They’re then cooked for 6 hours in constantly boiling water, with pot lid on tight. Meanwhile, we relaxed, ate, drank, and dozed off with the timer alarms properly set. No bonfire but still a most pleasant time.
Reports on cooked bánh tét and a Tết care package in the next post.