Traditional sweets in Mekong Delta (Part One)

Last April I went to Can Tho – a province in Mekong Delta for the festival of traditional pastries, it’s an annual activity, always hold in Cần Thơ, when the professionals and home-made masters meet together to share and to demonstrate their beautiful traditional dishes, some of dishes are very popular, some already long gone with the time! Most sweets are originally from Mekong Delta, people make it from generation to generation, many of us can’t live without them, especially in our childhood, but some I see it for the very first time!

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I would name it sweet “udon” as it’s served with sweet coconut sauce – the colors are natural!

I and my driver-friend couldn’t taste everything, but we tried many. Some we love, some…probably take time for us to fall in love! What surprised us the most is the varieties of the cakes  – same ingredients but how different they are!

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Typical sweets filled with green bean paste in Mekong Delta

Particularly in Mekong Delta or in South Vietnam in general, we love sweet taste especially with coconut flavor, pandan-leave flavor, all kinds of sweets with green bean paste, unlikely in Japan where people prefer red bean or somewhere else in Asia – black bean.

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The famous “bánh bèo” but in sweet version – green color from pandan leave, very fragrant and with green bean paste on top!
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Another sweet – again green color from pandan leave, special flavor and filled with green bean paste.

The below photo represents a special cake that almost every single kid or adult, in South Vietnam, love it, especially in our childhood. The way we name this cake quite strange – cake of pork skin (Bánh da lợn) probably due to the texture of the cake – a bit chewy but so tasteful! Again – pandan leave flavor, coconut and green bean. The cake is made of the mixture of different flours – tapioca starch, sticky rice flour or rice flour, depends on the recipes.

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It should be one of the most favorite, very traditional, cakes in South Vietnam
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Another kind of “cake of pork skin” – the purple color from leaves of magenta plant

Looks similar to “bánh da lợn” but the below cake, the green ones,  is made of different flours, different recipe. without green bean, the texture is not chewy, a bit harder and it’s served with coconut sauce, one of fabulous desserts, widely known in Mekong Delta.

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Another cake, probably same ingredients but the local chefs add some coconut shreds, make it a bit crunchy when bite,  the red color comes from special “gấc” fruit.

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Another cake – very traditional, very affordable, delicious, made of rice flour, coconut sauce, sugar and yeast. The recipes varies from one area to another, in some place people make it with honey or palm sugar instead of regular sugar…The most important is the texture and the honeycomb-like appearance from the inside, it should super soft but chewy. Bánh bò with palm sugar is originally from Cambodia.

By the way the name is strange again – bánh bò, while “bánh” means cake and “bò” could mean either “cow” or ‘to crawl”, so we have different explanations from the experts but mostly it’s based on the form of the cake during baking or steaming.

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Steamed bánh bò with palm sugar flavor, the cake is well-risen proves the chef’s skill.
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Another steamed bánh bò – different color, different flavor, different shape
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Bánh bò again…steamed ones with different flavors
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Tiny bánh bò still in little porcelain mould…
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Another bánh bò – but baked ones…
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Honeycomb cake (bánh bò) made with honey
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Bánh lá mít on the left, another speciality from Mekong Delta –

Bánh lá mít is my new discovery in this trip, to be honest, I never heard of it, never saw it and the way of preparation is unique. Bánh means cake and “lá mít” means the leaves of jack-fruit tree! People use the leaves like a “mould”, cover on one side of the leave with the mixture of rice and tapioca flour, water, sugar…steam it and we have a cake in a leave shape, it’s served with sweet coconut sauce!

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Fried banana with black sesame – popular street food in South Vietnam
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Bánh ống originally from Cambodia but now well-known street food in South Vietnam.
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Nowadays very hard to find this kind cake in the market, used to be popular in last century!

If the small cake in shape of fruits, made of green bean paste (the above photo), reminds me of my late cousin, she used to be a master of this cake, besides the cake texture, the taste…but how to shape it into the tiny fruits, color it…not easy! Thailand has similar cakes and easy to find in some food market.

The below photo represents another popular street food for kids inn the past – these small worms (!) made of steamed tapioca, mixed with shredded coconut, topped with roasted sesame, sugar and salt – the perfect snack!

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Tapioca worms – favorite street food

We spent almost several hours but it seems not enough for us to check everything, they are so many, so colorful, so flavorful…sometimes I feel like the list will never end, one after another…Now I move to another speciality, people do it for daily use but more during special occasions. The sweet soup and sweet sticky rice.

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Chè trôi nước 

Chè trôi nước – it’s a kind of sweet soup, like dessert, served by the end of the meal but this sweet soup is special as people prepare it for certain holidays or special occasions. The big balls made of sticky rice flour, filled with green bean, the small balls – without filling, as kids we loved small ones due to its chewy texture. The soup is quite thick sirup with ginger flavor. By the way due to ball floating so we call it “trôi nước”, i.e  water floating”! In the North they have a different name.

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Sticky rice with purple color from magenta plant

Once we already talk about sweet soup “chè”, we should mention “xôi” as these two words always together – xôi chè! What I found in this festival is the sticky rice with purple color from magenta plant. It’s a good street food in Saigon but the one on the above photo represents another kind, different recipe, more thick, more flavorful, always in square shape and topped with sesame. People love to display it on altar during special occasions.

To be continued…

 

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