Culture Culture

06/05/2020 - 08:08

Five-colored banh it: eye-catching, chewy and fragrant

My mother’s banh it are always rich in color. (Banh it is made from sticky rice flour with filling inside.) I often call them five-colored banh it. Every time Mom finishes cooking, looking at her colorful banh it displayed on a plate, I do not dare to eat them because they are so beautiful.

Delicious five-colored banh it

I have never known anyone who is as passionate about colors as Mom. Her meals, though sometimes very modest, are always colorful. Their beauty gives me an appetite. 

Of the common dishes that Mom often makes, I like banh it best. While banh it sold in shops are often white in color with shrimp and pork inside, or black with sweet mung bean inside, my Mom’s banh it are of up to 5 brilliant colors. They are not only delicious, but also beautiful. The beauty comes from wholesome natural color agents. It takes Mon lots of time and energy to make them.

First of all, it is preparing color agents. Mom picks some pandan leaves grown in the garden and washes them clean. The leaves are then squeezed to get the juice. Pandan makes banh it green. How about yellow? Easy. She uses fresh turmeric. 

Amaranth leaves or beetroots give red color. When gac (baby jackfruits) in the garden are in season, Mom uses them instead of amaranth leaves and beetroots. Gac gives a much better and fatty taste. The best leaves that give black color are ramie, which is abundant in my village. If lazy, Mom uses coffee instead. White color is simple because it is the color of sticky rice flour.

As for filling, instead of shrimp and pork as usual, Mom fries sliced shallot, then stir-fries cooked peeled mung bean with minced pork. She adds spices to taste, then slices in scallion.

The outer layer is made from sticky rice flour. Mom adds boiling water to the flour then kneads it into dough. Mom teaches me to add a little bit of salt and cooking oil to have a better outer layer.

To avoid the colors to get mixed, Mom has five different bowls for the five colors. She boils the color agents then pour into the dough. It is really hard work to have food which is both delicious and beautiful. 

When the dough and the filling are ready, Mom pinches a bit of dough and presses it flat in her palm. She takes a piece of filling, makes it into a ball, puts it on the dough, then wraps it carefully. Remember to put a banh it on a piece of banana leave so that it will not stick on the pot when steaming. 

Mom's five-colored banh it look too beautiful to eat. The outer layer is soft and chewy. The filling is good and fragrant of scallion. The pork gives a fatty taste. It is so good beyond description. 

Just two or three banh it are enough for the morning. In the afternoon, Mom cooks che from banh it for us to enjoy while waiting for dinner. 

All she has to do is boil water with sugar and some ginger threats. She throws in banh it and cooks it for two or three minutes. She sprinkles in some sesame or crushed peanut. This is best when hot. Che is sweet, fragrant of ginger; the filling is salty and fatty. It is so delicious that we have never felt fed up with it.

Mom often says in the past, we children were very picky about food. So every time she cooked, she always tried to make the food look eye-catching so that her children would eat more. Gradually it becomes a habit. Up till now, I have never found better banh it than my Mom’s.

Story and photo: LINH CHI