Update: 14:03 | 13/01/2023
Nguyen Thi Chuyen has sold banh duc Tau, a type of steamed rice cake, in Hai Phong's Le Chan District since 1989. More than 10 people are seated on the sidewalk in front of a home at 159 Hai Ba Trung Street on a chilly evening enjoying the delicious food.
Smooth and soft jelly rice cake is included in a bowl of steamed rice cake together with shrimp, pork, and papaya. Before serving, a kind of spicy, sweet, and vinegary sauce will be drizzled on top.
Chuyen, 61, explained that banh duc Tau has Chinese origins.
Banh duc Tau, a beloved street food of Hai Phong.
She learned how to make this dish from her aunt Hoa, who married into a Chinese family in Hai Phong. "Hoa was one of the first people to sell this dish in Hai Phong," said Chuyen. "She had been selling it for 30 years when I started working with her in 1985."
After her aunt taught her how to make the dish in 1989, Chuyen decided to sell this dish by herself in front of 189 Cat Dai Alley. In 2021, she moved to the current location. According to the vendor, the cake is made from flour, and it is white, smooth, dry, and tougher than the traditional Vietnamese steamed rice cake due to the wooden tray used to steam it.
In order to prepare the rice for soaking, Chuyen and her husband must get up at 4 a.m. She says that to prevent the cake from getting ruined, only good grade plain rice is used–not glutinous rice.
The rice is then mixed with a little salt and then ground into a mixture. While grinding the flour, her husband puts a pot of water on to boil to steam the cake. When the water has boiled, the flour is poured into different layers one centimeter thick on a tray measuring 60 x 15 centimeters for steaming. "If the cake is made at 6 in the morning, it will be sold immediately at 7 that morning, Chuyen explained. "I will make a new batch in the afternoon instead of using old cakes stored in the fridge."
Green papaya is peeled, washed, diced into small pieces, boiled in water and then mixed with a little cashew powder. Bite-sized pieces of pork belly and shrimp with their antennae removed are stir-fried together. The toppings are kept separate until there is an order, then they are put on top of the cake to make it more appealing.
Depending on the number of toppings, a bowl of steamed rice cake can cost anywhere from VND12,000 to VND20,000 (50 to 85 cents).
"Some customers like to eat a lot of cakes, others like to have more papaya or shrimp, and children can't eat spicy food," she said. "So I will make the orders based on the customers' preferences," said Chuyen while making an order.
Chuyen has been selling steamed rice cakes since 1989.
The eatery is located on the sidewalk, so the layout is very simple. Chuyen sits behind a platter of cakes, surrounded by bowls, spoons, and condiments such as fish sauce and vinegar. Since there are no tables, guests who come to eat sit together on small chairs. "It's a simple set up, but this vendor has existed for more than 30 years, selling 500 bowls a day," said Chuyen.
Luu Kim Duong, a 44-year-old resident of Hai Phong's Hai An District, said that the dish combines the rich taste of pork belly with the sweetness of shrimp, the crunchiness of papaya and the softness of cake. Meanwhile, Nguyen Thi Minh Hoa, a 55-year-old tourist from Hanoi, said that there were other places in Hai Phong selling this dish, such as the vendors at Co Dao Market, Luong Van Can Market, and May Da Market. But she believes Chuyen is the best one.
In 2022, Chuyen's steamed rice cake was put on the food map by the Hai Phong City Tourism Department.