The Southwest always brings people a sense of familiarity for its rusticity. This land is naturally endowed with abundant alluvium and luxuriant orchards all year round, and the locals take advantage of whatever they have to make food. Coconut is often used in their cooking as a flavour enhancer, mostly coconut water and coconut milk. Southwesterners have a stronger preference for sweet recipes than those who come from the North or the Central region. They make a variety of cakes to satisfy their sweet tooth. Here’s a list of some that please tourists from everywhere.
“Bò” (Crawling) cake
Foreigners may question why this type of cake has such a strange name. Here’s an explanation from the locals: after being finely kneaded in a basin or a bowl, fermented rice flour will “crawl” over the edge, or expand.
“Bò” cakes are no stranger to Vietnamese people throughout the country as they can be found everywhere nowadays, in food stalls and also in baskets carried by street vendors with loud cries.
“Bò” is just a common name for this type of cake, but its variations are named after where and how they are made and what ingredients they are made from, for example, “bò” cake with palmyra palm sugar, baked “bò” cake, “bò” cake with coconut milk, “bò” cake flavoured with pandan leaves, etc.
“Ú” (Pyramid) cake
Since time immemorial, “ú” cakes have been an indispensable part of the Doan Ngo (Parasite killing) festival in Vietnam (5th of the 5th lunar month). Legend has it that having this easy-to-digest cake in the 5th lunar month when sultry weather facilitates the growth of bacteria, can help kill pathogens in the human body as it is entirely made from natural ingredients.
In the past, “ú” cakes were referred to as “âm” cakes. Shaped like a pyramid, this type of cake is wrapped in bamboo, banana or dong leaves and made from glutinous rice and sweetened mung beans. Wrapping the cake is not too hard, but it requires meticulousness and skills to shape it nicely.
These days, “ú” cake has several variations such as “ú tro” (glutinous rice soaked in water with bamboo leaf ash before being boiled), “ú mặn” (with savoury fillings) and “ú đậu xanh” (with mung bean filling).
This rustic dessert reminds many people, especially Southerners, of their childhood. Its pleasant sweetness and mild toughness make the cake unforgettable. What’s more, the cake can be eaten layer by layer as flour alternates with fillings.
“Pigskin” cakes are normally made from tapioca starch, rice flour, white sugar, pandan leaves and mung beans. Coconut milk can be added to enhance the flavour. Thanks to the natural colourant called pandan leaves, this type of cake is given a green look which is very pleasing to the eye.
Just like many other types of cakes, it has a number of variations which are no less appealing than the original, for example, coffee-flavoured “pigskin” cake, five-coloured “pigskin” cake, “pigskin” cake with taro filling, etc.
Steamed banana cake
Despite being a sweet recipe typical of the Southwest, steamed banana cake is served with savoury coconut milk and crushed roasted peanuts on top.
The ingredients for steamed banana cake are very popular: banana, dried coconut, tapioca starch, rice flour, yellow sugar, peanut, and vanilla. It’s best to use ripe, plump bananas. There are plenty of ways to prepare bananas. People can simply cut them into slices and mix well with flour, or crush them before mixing with flour for a stronger banana taste.
This is one of the must-try recipes in the Southwest. It’s perfect to have a steamed banana cake with coconut milk on cool autumn days.
Sugar-coated orange cake
Sugar-coated orange cakes probably occupy an irreplaceable position in the mind of older generations. They are crispy and sweet on the outside and pleasant-tasting on the inside with crushed mung beans. Just pay a few cents and the cake is yours.
Despite being on the list of common desserts in the Southern countryside, sugar-coated orange cake is usually eaten for breakfast or afternoon meal because its quality outweighs its price. Ordinary and glutinous rice flour, mung beans, vanilla, sugar and sesame are key ingredients for this cake. It takes a few simple steps to make the cake, but patience and dexterity are required skills. The heyday of sugar-coated orange cakes is over, yet the taste of childhood it carries will be remembered forever.
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