Bánh Tét Chay (Vegetarian)
Bánh Tét Chay (Vegetarian)
Grace Le

Life on the Veg: Bánh Tét Chay for the Lunar New Year

For those of you too busy decorating hand-made Valentine's Day cards to notice, Lunar New Year is creeping up behind us like the stealthy tiger it is. This year the date falls smack dab on Feb. 14,  and if you've been to Westminster or Garden Grove's Little Saigon area, you'll know the place is bustling with preparations for the holiday.

Bánh tét is a savory cake traditionally made with seasoned mung beans and pork fat, encased by a cylindrical layer of glutinous rice and then wrapped with banana leaves. It is an essential purchase in any Vietnamese home to ring in the New Year; kind of like the equivalent of cooking a turkey during Thanksgiving, only this tradition has been around for thousands of years.

Bánh tét is customarily made at home by Vietnamese families the day before Lunar New Year (Tét) as a bonding experience; the process can take up to 10 hours, including the preparation of ingredients and cooking time. Needless to say, the practice has been steadily declining over the years and is particularly rare in Vietnamese communities within the United States.

Smaller-sized batches of bánh tét and its square-shaped cousin, bánh chưng, can be found throughout the year, but it's during Lunar New Year that these hefty five- to ten-pound cakes become available at just about any Vietnamese food-to-go.

Keep reading for more on where you can score yourself vegetarian versions of this traditional Vietnamese treat and get a 2010 Horoscope reading for your Chinese zodiac sign! We know you're curious, even if you won't admit it.

Bánh Tét Chay (Vegetarian)
Bánh Tét Chay (Vegetarian)
Grace Le
Bánh tét chay was originally made by vegetarian Buddhists and poorer rural families who couldn't afford to use pork as stuffing. Despite the lack of pork fat as an ingredient, the savory vegetarian version is flavorful and hearty. Sweet vegetarian versions are also made using molasses or bananas instead of pork.

These babies are wrapped in banana leaves and precooked for hours in a vat of boiling water, so they're ready to eat at room temperature if you wish. The mung bean paste is seasoned with salt, peppers, and onions and acts as a wonderful accompaniment to the sticky rice.

There tons of recipes floating around around out there out there, so it's easy to get overwhelmed, but Van's Bakery in Westminster makes a particularly great and easily accessible bánh tét chay. When you first slice it open, you may be disheartened by the amount of filling used on the inside, but the solution to this is simple:

Bánh Tét Chay Fried
Bánh Tét Chay Fried
Grace Le

Fry it.

The rice is seasoned and aromatic from the fresh banana leaves. It also crisps beautifully when pan-fried with a spot of vegetable oil. Also, eating too much mung bean can also make you feel as though you've swallowed a brick.

Slice the bánh tét about an inch thick and remove the leaves before frying to get a an awesome crust with hot, moist rice on the inside. Accompany this with Maggi, soy sauce, or (if you want hardcore authentic) fish sauce to kick the flavor up a notch. I especially like to eat my bánh tét with pickled scallions, which are available at any Asian supermarket. The pickles give the dish a nice tang and cut through the oil, leaving you with a refreshed palate.

And now, to make something good even better!

Read your 2010 Horoscope for the year of the tiger. We're not judging.

Chúc mừng năm mới (happy New Year) from us to you!

Van's Bakery
8926 Bolsa Ave

Westminster, CA 92683


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