Chúc Mừng Năm Mới!
This Tết (Vietnamese Lunar New Year) is a little bittersweet for me because I will not be spending it with my large Vietnamese family in Virginia since we moved to Austin last summer. However, I did get to visit my uncle and his family up in Dallas yesterday. Their presence lovingly filled the holes in my heart.
Here is a pic of my daughter in a traditional Vietnamese three-wheeled cyclo (bicycle-taxi) as we explored the Vietnamese center yesterday all adorned for Tết.
Like all good Vietnamese families, my uncle and auntie could not let me go home empty-handed, so my car was loaded up with a bag of savory goodies for Tết and a crate of fresh fruit. Check out this delicious pineapple.
One of the staples for a traditional Tết celebration is called Bánh Tét. It is made out of sticky rice, peppery and sinfully fatty pork belly, and mung bean rolled in banana leaves and steamed for 6-10 hours. Traditionally families would get together and party while it steamed overnight to celebrate the coming Spring and togetherness. In order to keep the contents from falling out when it is being steamed, the roll is normally tied in string or ribbon. Here is the one my dear auntie gave me. I’ve already removed the string.
After removing the string and the banana leaves, you will see the sticky rice, ever so softly tinted green from the banana leaves. The leaves not only lend the beautiful color but also a fragrant flavor and aroma to the moist glutinous rice.
You can slice it at this point and eat it dipped in fish sauce or with Củ Cải Nước Mắm, which are pickled crunchy turnip slices. My grandma makes a huge batch of them every Tết. I absolutely can’t eat Bánh Tét without them! Luckily, my Dallas family sent me home with a nice big jar! Eaten fresh (prior to refrigeration), the sticky rice remains soft and ultra sticky. It has very luscious feel on your palate.
This is what it looks like sliced up. It helps to wet your knife between each slice to keep it from sticking too much.
Once you refrigerate any leftovers you have, the sticky rice hardens up and is not enjoyable to eat right out of the fridge. This can be remedied the next time you’re ready to indulge again by a quick warm up in the microwave. However, my absolute favorite way to enjoy Bánh Tét is to fry it up! I slice myself up a nice thick piece about an inch thick and fry it on medium low in coconut oil with the lid on. This steams it to soften up the sticky rice again (if it’s been refrigerated) while it is browning. Once it is brown on the first side, I repeat this step on the second side. Then I leave off the lid and do what I call the big “squish”!
I squish that bad boy down as much as I can to create even more surface area for ultra glutinous rice crunchiness! See the middle part coming up between the spatula slots? Those are the flavorful mung beans. Can you just taste the fatty pork belly getting nice and browned too? It just kills me.
I enjoyed this earthy, crunchy, chewy, fatty, sticky dish with a side of Chả Lụa, which is a Vietnamese pork roll. It is made by combining ground pork with nước mắm (fish sauce), spices, shallots, garlic, tapioca starch, single acting baking powder, and water. The mixture is also rolled up in fragrant banana leaves and then steamed. See the light green tint on the outside?
If you live in an area that has a Chinese or Vietnamese grocery store, you can likely still find these items for sale. So go and get your Bánh Tét on!
This new year, I wish all you foodies and bloggers inspiration, creativity, grace and passion in your endeavors! Chúc Mừng Năm Mới!