Introducing Banh khuc

Banh khuc is a traditional cake of Vietnam. It’s a rice ball made from glutinous rice, green bean, pork, spices and, most importantly, cudweed (khuc).

Cudweed grows during lunar January and February, when the drizzling rain lasts all day, and it can be found along the edges of rice fields. There are two kinds: nep and te. The latter is more flexible and fragrant and is preferred for making the cake.

First, the cudweed is washed, ground and then mixed with husked glutinous rice. Green beans, that are flayed and turned into paste after being cooked, are then added to the mixture. Finally, the cakes are sprinkled with grains of glutinous steamed rice.

As time goes by it is increasingly difficult to find cudweed as fields are eaten up by development. However, for now you can find banh khuc in Hanoi. However some bakers may not be using cudweed and may substitute it with cabbage or water morning glory.

“Maybe I will no longer have the chance to satisfy my hunger for banh khuc,” says 60-year-old Nguyen Thi Khanh on Yen Ninh street. Khanh is not alone. Many others believe “real” banh khuc is no longer made in Hanoi.

One woman who would against that is 47-year-old Nguyen Thi Lan, whose cake stall at 69 Nguyen Cong Tru street has been churning out banh khuc for years. Lan has to hire locals in rural areas in Hanoi or in neighbouring provinces to seek out the elusive cudweed. In winter it grows in abundance so enough has to be collected to last the summer. The surplus will be dried and stored.

So next time you’re in the old quarter of Hanoi, you might hear someone cry “Ai banh khuc nong day?” (who wants hot banh khuc?).

You can stop them and ask if the banh khuc is from Ngoai Hoang village in Ha Tay Province, a place that is famous for having the most delicious and tasty banh khuc.

The cake costs VND3,000 for one and should be served hot and dipped into a mixture of roasted and crushed sesame seeds and salt.

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