Keep it dark: The secret behind a favorite Hanoi dessert

By Kieu Duong, Thanh Nien News

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Hanoi’s Duong Lam Ancient Village, which was granted a 2013 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Award for Cultural Heritage Conservation, is famous for its architecture and cultural values.
To food lovers, the village is also well-known for its banh gai – a glutinous rice cake made with ramie leaves.

Ramie leaves’ extract gives the outer layer of bánh gai its dark color.

Ramie leaves are the main start here. They they give the dessert its distinct color, flavor and fragrance.
The ramie leaves are washed and carefully boiled before being pounded.

Ramie leaves are boiled to make banh gai.

Nguyen Thi Thanh, a Duong Lam villager, stirs the boiled ramie leaves.

She collects and removes the hard ribs of the leaves.

The dark green extract is then mixed with sugar and glutinous rice flour to make the outer layer of the cake. 

The ramie leaves' powder is mixed with glutinous rice flour to prepare the dough.

The dough is kneaded carefully.

The fillings of the cake is made from pounded steamed mung beans mixed with sugar, coconut shreds and pork fat. 

The dough has been divided into smaller portions.

Then they are wrapped in dried banana leaves.

After the round cakes are kneaded, they will be covered with a layer of sesame. 

The cakes are covered with sesame.

The cakes are wrapped in dried banana leaves and steamed for two hours. 

The final step: the ramie leaf cakes are steamed for two hours until they are done.

Banh gai is served cool. It is tasty mostly thanks to the ramie leaves, and the great combination of the chewy glutinous rice, sweet sugar, nutty mung bean, shredded coconut and pork fat. 
The Duong Lam ramie leaf cake is sold all year round but it becomes one of the most sought-after products for the Lunar New Year. 
Nguyen Thi Tho, a villager who owns a small banh gai shop, said she receives orders to make around 1,000 cakes every Tet. Each costs VND5,000-7,000 (23-33 US cents).

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