In Vietnam, there is an endless variety of cakes made from rice or rice flour. But only one can ultimately take "rice cake" as its name.
Banh te, which literally means “rice cake”, is very simple. It is considered one of the most typical dishes of former Ha Tay Province, which has been merged into Hanoi, although it can be found in other parts of the country.
The cake is made from rice flour, wrapped in dong and banana leaves into a long, thin cylindrical shape and then steamed.
The ingredients to make banh te are very easy to find in the Red River Delta region of northern Vietnam, where rice farming is the main work.
They are plain, non-glutinous white rice, minced pork, wood ear, onion, salt and pepper.
To make the best banh te, it is important to have the high-quality rice. Rice is first soaked in water until it is soft enough, then it is ground by hand with a grindstone to turn rice into a thick or watery mixture.
This mixture is stored in three or four days before being cooked to a not-too-hot temperature. It has to be stirred persistently until it becomes thick and gluey.
To make the filling, pork, onion and wood ear are minced and mixed with salt and pepper. The filling is then sautéed.
Dong and banana leaves are washed carefully before wrapping banh te. A layer of rice paste is placed onto a dong leaf, followed by a layer of filling, and then another layer of rice.
The cake is then wrapped with the dong leaf, and another banana leaf before being tied with bamboo strings.
The last step involves steaming for 30 minutes until it is done.
The best banh te must be white and have the filling intact. The cake is best served when it is hot, and served with fish sauce.
Banh te is made all year round. It is a favorite snack, usually bought as gifts by travelers to Ha Tay.