Chưng bính truyện
Bánh tét is a cylindrical sticky rice dish wrapped in banana leaves, mostly eaten in central and southern Vietnam. The origins of these rice cakes are equivocal but the earliest record of bánh chưng bánh giầy can be found in Book 1 of Linh Nam Chich Quai (extraordinary stories from Linh Nam), the earliest collection of legends, myths, and folklore dating back to ancient Vietnam in the 14th century, compiled by an anonymous author during the Tran dynasty. Most of the stories in the collection are an attempt to explain many aspects of Vietnamese life, including the origins of iconic foods like paan or watermelon. The bánh chưng bành giầy story, titled “Chưng bính truyện” is one that most people are familiar with.
Chưng bính truyện tells the story of the sixth Hu ng King who wanted to pick an heir amongst his twenty sons. To do this, the king hosted a cooking competition among the brothers, sending them on a search for delicious dishes everywhere in the world. Lang Lieu, the king’s eighteenth son, being poor and motherless, couldn’t afford to travel far. Lucky for the prince, one night when Lang Lieu was sleeping, a deity entered his dream and offered him advice to use sticky rice as the main ingredient to make a square cake ( bánh chưng), symbolising the earth; and a round cake ( bánh giầy), symbolising heaven. According to the deity, there was no exotic delicacy that could compare with rice, as rice fed and nurtured life. The deity also added a leaf wrapping to represent a mother’s protection. Lang Lieu followed the suggestion, and the king noted that his youngest son’s gifts were not only the purest, but also the most meaningful. Lang Lieu then became heir to the throne, and his brothers bowed to show respect and congratulated the new king.
This folk tale shows the importance of positivity and creativity in the hardest of times, and that man can triumph even if he is least likely to, only if he puts in a little effort and a lot of heart.