Che (Vietnamese Sweet Soup)
If you ask, probably every kid that you meet in Vietnam will know about che, a Vietnamese sweet soup or pudding which is super refreshing – a perfect way to stave off the tropical heat. There are probably a hundred or so types of che. Hot, cold, in a little bowl or a tall glass over ice – you can try them all! Due to its colorful elements, che is the most eye-catching and appetizing of all Vietnamese desserts. Without fail, a glass of che makes every kid jump up in excitement. Adults are even fans of this syrupy beverage.
The recipe calls for a wide range of beans, jellies, fruit, seeds, vegetables, glutinous rice and tapioca. You can run into a che street vendor or a shop almost anywhere in the city – along the street, at an outdoor market, down some alleyway– it is sold everywhere. Vietnamese people often have che not only for dessert but also for special occasions such as a child’s First Birthday, Lunar New Year, a death anniversary or a family gathering. Che definitely plays an important role in the culinary foodways of Vietnamese folk.
Chuoi Chien (Fried Banana)
Fried banana is a street snack that is hard to forget. One taste instantly sends you back to those good old days of childhood when things were simple and just a few fried bananas on a rainy day could put a big smile on your face. Crunchy on the outside but warm and soft on the inside – every element complements each other perfectly.
Chuoi chien is often made from a special variety of small, stubby bananas called chuoi su or chuoi xiem in Vietnam, which are much more fragrant and sweet than regular bananas. The secret to getting the most heavenly crunchy outer crust is to double deep-fry. When the banana fritter begins to brown, take it out and quickly dip it back in the batter, and then refry it. Serve the dish when it is still hot to maintain the crispness.
Banh Bo (“Cow” Cakes or Steamed Rice Cakes)
In Vietnam, there is a popular treat named after cows but isn’t made of beef or anything cow-related. Banh Bo literally means cow cake (“banh” means cake and “bo” means cow). Some say that it got the name from its inner texture, which resembles that of beef liver. Others say it’s because the cake looks like a cow’s udder implying that the name was shortened from bánh vú bò (cow udder cake). While the true origin of banh bo’s name is still shrouded in mystery, its tastiness is utterly undeniable. Soft, sweet and moist, banh bo is definitely the best dish to satisfy your sweet tooth. Cutting a piece of banh bo in half exposes an interesting spongy and fluffy interior.
The ingredients to making banh bo are quite simple: water, sugar, glutinous rice flour and yeast. Servers often add some sort of dye to color the dessert, and this not only to stimulates one’s appetite but also makes the dessert more aesthetically pleasing. When serving banh bo, sellers often sprinkle some sesame seeds on top and pour coconut milk sauce all over the cakes. The richness and aroma of coconut milk enhance the flavor, leaving you wanting more.
Khoai Lang Chien (Fried Sweet Potato)
This crispy homemade dessert was many people’s most favorite snack because of its texture. You can see it’s quite similar to chuoi chien – fried banana; but sweet potato is less soggy, so it has a better taste for those who prefer a creamy and solid piece of fried snack. Normally people will fry a whole banana for one serving, but khoai lang is cut into smaller pieces so it looks a lot like french fries. Some places even grind the sweet potato to mix directly with flour, and mold it into ball shapes, which is more amusing to eat!
Banh Da Lon (Pigskin Cake)
There are a few things in the culinary world that instantly scream “Vietnamese”, and I think banh da lon is one of those. This scrumptious dessert is a favorite among locals and found almost everywhere. Banh da lon sit patiently in the glass cases of street vendors, capturing the attention of passersby with their eye-catching colors.
Banh da lon is a steamed layer cake, which includes rice flour, tapioca starch, mashed mung beans, taro (or durian,) coconut milk and/or water and sugar. Its texture is soft, gelatinous and chewy, which explains why it is cheekily referred to “pig skin.” This dessert comes in all shapes and sizes with alternating layers of green and yellow tapioca flour.
Normally, one adds food or vegetable coloring to banh da lon for the sake of making it more eye-catching. The savory aroma of coconut, the richness of mashed mung beans and the softness of the cake all mingle together to create a pleasant taste that lingers on your taste buds long after your first bite. People eat Banh da lon no matter the occasion, as a dessert or a snack. Locals also use it as an offering to present one’s deceased loved ones on important days like a death anniversary.
Banh Pia (Durian Cake)
Banh pia is not as popular as the aforementioned dishes, primarily because the cake’s primary ingredient is durian– which certainly is not everyone’s cup of tea. However, if you are a fan of durians and have no issues with its ungodly odor, then the creamy banh pia is a must-try.
Banh pia is a puff pastry with a sweet filling made of durian, green bean and salted egg yolk. For many, the most special feature of banh pia lies in the flaky pastry crust; therefore, making the crust is the most sophisticated step in the process of baking banh pia. Locals traditionally serve this with hot ginger tea. One bite into a slice of banh pia while sipping on tea is a delightful experience. The sweetness of banh pia blends with the bitterness of tea creating a delicate aftertaste. A regional specialty of the South, specifically the Soc Trang province, every aspect of the baked good is a reflection of three ethnic groups: the Kinh, Hoa and Khmer.
Rau Cau Dua (Coconut Jelly) and Flan Cake
Coconut is a very popular and important ingredient to make desserts in many Southeastern Asian countries, not just Vietnam. More or less, it appears in almost every sweet dish that the Vietnamese have on a daily basis. In a tropical country like Vietnam, you might as well drink the juice and eat the flesh of a raw coconut as a dessert, no need to cook it into anything! But coconut jelly is more flavorful and delicious, and you can see locals often eating it with flan cake, creating an unrivaled combo for desserts.
Normally it has two layers: a crystal part made mostly from coconut juice, the other white jelly is made more from coconut milk and flesh. Many places also use the empty coconut itself like a bowl to serve to customers. Take a bite, and you’ll feel an intense flavor of coconut. The glassy part is very refreshing, and it’s very likely to melt right in your mouth. On the other hand, the white layer is creamy and mushy, balancing what you’ve just tasted in the first bite. Since it is a very popular dessert in Vietnam, many locals have been adding different ingredients to make it more diversified, so you can also see other versions of rau cau dua in various colors and flavors!
People often have coconut jelly with flan cake, and a dish like that will just complete your sweet cravings. A complete portion is coconut jelly, flan cake, light coffee, ice, and more coconut milk sauce on top. Coffee is here to help ease the overwhelming richness of this dish, it’s the perfect drink to round out these flavors!
Keo Dua (Coconut Candy)
Here’s another kind of dessert coming from the southern part of Vietnam, Ben Tre province, a place that locals also often refer to as “the Land of Coconut”. Because of their abundant source of quality coconut, there are a lot of delightful coconut desserts and cuisine from Ben Tre such as soft coconut paper, coconut tuber, coconut wine, coconut rice, coconut everything. Among these, coconut candy is a handy sweet snack that you can easily find in many big cities in Vietnam.
This is a distinctive local specialty and also the longstanding work of a traditional handcrafted business of people from Ben Tre. Made from coconut, malt syrup, and sugar, this thick and buttery candy will surely satisfy your sugar rush any time. Remember that it is a very sticky confectionery so you probably can’t chew it all in one bite. Leave it inside your mouth for a while to soften the candy, and slowly chew from there. You’ll embrace all the richness from coconut cream and milk, and a touch of watery sweetness when the candy begins to melt. As coconut can also go well with other flavors, people often add in different ingredients such as durian, pandan, chocolate, or even strawberry.