According to legend, King Hung wanted to choose one son as a successor to his throne. He summoned all of his sons, and told them that whoever could bring him the most precious offering to the altar of the ancestors, thereby showing all their pious feelings for him, the winner would be awarded the throne.
All of the princes traveled throughout the country in search of the tastiest and most exotic foods to offer their father, except Lang Lieu, the 18th prince. Being the poorest prince, he thought he did not have a chance to compete for he could not afford such luxurious foods and had no idea where to begin looking.
One night, he dremt of a genie who told him,
“There is nothing greater than the sky or the earth. And the rice grain is the most precious thing in the world. Now, use gao nêp(glutinous rice) to make Banh Chung, a green and square cake, symbolizing the earth [long time ago, people thought the earth was square]. It will have a filling made of dau xanh (mung beans) and meat symbolizing plants and animals living on the earth. You will use green leaves to cover the cake, symbolizing the services rendered by parents to their children. Then use ground glutinous rice to make Banh day, a white, dome shaped cake, symbolizing the sky.”
When he awoke, Lang Lieu was very happy and prepared the two kinds of cakes described by the genie. When the day of the contest came, the King thoroughly examined the offerings of his sons, although not entirely satisfied, the King was impressed by the favors and the meaning of Lang Lieu’s cakes. Therefore, King Hung chose him as the successor to the throne. Since then, Banh Chung and Banh Day became the traditional food for the Têt holidays.
Later, in the South, people have made “banh tet” (tet cake), which is a cylindrical version of banh chung. Banh Tet comes in different flavors. Some have the same ingredients as Banh Chung, while others contain shredded coconut and black beans in the rice layer along with sugar and mung bean filling.
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