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Banh Chung for Lunar New Year

The assembly of banh chung. Photograph by Tam Ngo

I was born in Vietnam, grew up in Florida, and left home to attend college in New England. Homesick and culture shocked, my dorm diet of boiled meat and vegan tempeh only added to the heartbreak. I could never get away to see my family for Tet, so one year, my mother picked out her choicest banh chung to send via USPS. She put her faith in the postal system and New England's frigid weather, optimistic that the banh chung would keep.

By the time I got it, it smelled vaguely fungal. But even with the sour tang, I cleaved to this love letter from home. I stuck it in a chunk of snow by my dorm room window, and for the next few days, ate around the growing mold.

In areas with a sizable Vietnamese community, you can find banh chung around Lunar New Year and banh tet in markets year-round. (Banh tet are cylindrical forms of banh chung and are more popular in the regions of southern Vietnam.) Stacked in neat bricks, sometimes even warm, the sign of a good banh chung is one that's meaty, hefty, and tightly rolled. If it's fresh, the supple leaves will smell slightly of tea and yield just so when pressed.

This year, our friend Yen Ha of the blog Lunch invited us over to help her mom roll a Tet batch of twenty. Under the gentle tutelage of the more experienced, we've adapted the banh chung recipe from Andrea Nguyen's Into the Vietnamese Kitchen to incorporate Yen's mother's approach.

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