Still Life No.1

Việt lore has it that bánh chưng was created by Lang Liêu, the 18th and poorest in a long line of princes in the 6th Hùng dynasty.

To pick his successor, the king asked the princes for a Tết dish worthy of their ancestors. Stacked against exotic offerings by his brothers, Lang Liêu’s bánh chưng impressed the king with its simplicity and locavore sensibility: A square of glutinous white rice tightly packed around mung bean paste and slivers of fatty pork, wrapped in phrynium leaves (lá dong), and steamed until it has the consistency of a cake. In offering up Earth and Sky (bánh giầy or bánh dầy), Lang Liêu inherited the throne.

More prevalent in the Southern and Central regions of Vietnam is bánh tét, which also consists of glutinous white rice, mung bean paste, and fatty pork, but is packed into a log-like shape, inside banana leaves.  For a sweet variation of bánh tét, the filling consists of finger bananas that turn a magenta color when cooked.

Black beans are used as a substitute for fatty pork in vegetarian versions of both bánh chưng and bánh tét.