Vietnamese Square Sticky Rice Cake (Banh Chung)
Vietnamese Square Sticky Rice Cake (Banh Chung or Chung cake) is a must-have in the Lunar New Year celebration of Vietnam. Despite being made from simple ingredients, this traditional cake tastes wonderful and holds beautiful cultural meaning in it.
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time12 hrs
Total Time18 hrs 20 mins
Servings: 2 cakes
- 3 cups long-grain sticky rice (about 1 lb)
- 9 oz split mung bean (about 250 grams)
- 1 lb pork belly
- 5 1/4 teaspoons salt (divided)
- 2 teaspoons freshly-cracked black pepper (or more)
- 1 lb frozen banana leaves
Prepping work the night before
Prepping work before wrapping the cake
Slice pork belly into same sizes, about 1 inch thick, 3 1/2 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and 2 teaspoons of black pepper, mix well and set aside.
Drain the rice and sprinkle 3 teaspoons of salt over it, mix to combine. Set aside.
Drain the mung bean and sprinkle 1 1/4 teaspoons of salt over it, mix to combine.
Steam mung bean until it's soft, about 15 minutes. Then either mash it or process it finely in a food processor. You can taste and add more salt if needed. When mung bean is still warm, divide into 2 equal portions and form each portion into round balls.
Wash banana leaves and pat dry.
Wrapping and Assembling the cakes
Place your cake mold on a clean surface. Arrange two strings cut from kitchen twines as in the photo below. The strings will be used to tie around the cake so make sure they are not too short.
Cut four pieces of banana leaves so that when you fold them in half and fold in half one more time, the folded piece fits inside the mold.
Put one folded piece of banana leaves inside the mold in an upright position against one corner of the mold as in the image below.
Pull the top corner down towards the bottom clockwise.
Lay flat and pull the farthest corner up to form a triangle at the bottom.
Continue to do the same for the other three pieces and put each of them in each corner. Note that for the last two pieces, you don't need to pull the corner to form a triangle.
Cut another four smaller pieces of banana leaves, about half as big as the previous ones and repeat those steps. This step will make sure the rice and mung bean are safely secured.
Once the leaves have been laid out, we can start adding ingredients. Scoop 1 cup of rice and pour into the mold, lightly spread and push the rice into an even layer.
Use your hands, break one of the mung bean ball in half, then hold one half above the rice and break into smaller pieces and spread over the rice.
Add half of the pork belly into the center over the mung bean.
Hold the other half of the mung bean ball above the pork belly, break into smaller pieces and spread over the cake center. Then finally top with about 1 1/4 - 1 1/2 cups of rice. Push some of the rice to the side and corners.
Fold the banana leaves down and press gently. Tie the two strings around the cake as below.
Remove the mold and tie two more strings around the cake. The rice will expand so don't tie too tightly. Now you can flip the cake over and it will look as in the photo.
Using the remaining ingredients to make another cake following the same steps.
Boiling the cakes
Line a large pot with 1-2 pieces of banana leaves.
Put the cakes in the pot, then fill the pot with water to cover the cakes. To prevent the cakes from floating, place heavy objects on top of them to weigh them down. I use two ceramic bowls.
Bring the water to a boil and then adjust the heat to remain a low-moderate boil. Cover and cook for 10 hours. Once in a while, check to see if there is still enough water to cover the cakes. If not, add some boiling water.
After 10 hours, remove the cakes from the pot and rinse under water until the outer leaves are not sticky. Place the cakes on a rack over a baking sheet. Place another baking sheet on top and put some heavy books on top to press the cakes for at least 2-4 hours.
Serving the cakes
Chung cake can be served immediately after the pressing step. Peel off the banana leaves and cut into 4 or 8 slices. Eat the cake on its own or with Vietnamese pork sausage and condiments such as soy sauce.
You can also fry the cake slices until all sides are golden and crispy.
Storing the cakes
The cakes can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days to a week. Reheat by microwaving or frying.
You can also freeze the cakes for a few months. Thaw the cake in the refrigerator and then boil it for 1-2 hours before eating.
This recipe makes two 6'' x 6'' cakes.
Some small tips for you
If you are not confident with your wrapping skill, you can reinforce the cake by wrapping it with a layer of aluminum foil.
I like to start wrapping in the morning so I can finish boiling the cake before bedtime and then let the cake pressed overnight.