This year, I got my banh chung practice in a month early because I was asked to do an interview with Vietnam Television for a Lunar New Year special feature to air around Tet, which is February 16th. After the usual sit-down interview, we shot some B-roll of me making banh chung with Alvin, my partner-in-crime when it comes to Lunar New Year food experiments. Alvin and I attempted banh chung for the first time last New Year’s, and I dare say, our skills have improved vastly since then.

A quick lesson in what banh chung is: for Vietnamese New Year (or Tet), this savory cake consisting of marinated pork belly, mung bean paste, and sticky rice is wrapped and cooked in banana leaves. Traditionally in the North, square banh chung are made, while the Vietnamese in the South tend to prepare the cylindrical banh Tet. The filling is essentially the same, though the leaves used to wrap the cakes may differ. Here in the U.S., though, I wrap my cakes with banana leaves since they are easier to source.

Wrapping banh chung

Wrapping the banh chung using a mold the hubs cobbled together

From the taste of the cake to the wrapping to the cooking method, I would say we’ve really stepped up our banh chung game. Ba Noi–Grandma–would be proud.

I decided to employ the pressure cooker this year, making the cooking process much simpler and shorter. Instead of boiling the cakes for 6+ hours or vacuum-sealing the cakes with water for sous vide cooking, I just wrapped the cakes in foil and dropped them in the pressure cooker for 90 minutes on high pressure, then 90 minutes on simmer. And voila! Perfectly tasty, thoroughly cooked Vietnamese New Year square rice cakes!

Today I’m sharing with you my new and improved recipe for savory New Year’s rice cakes. Yes, it’s labor-intensive, but a fun and communal way to get the family and friends together in anticipation and celebration of the New Year. Mexican families have their tamales during Christmas; Vietnamese folks got their rice cakes during Tet.

Banh chung in the pressure cooker

Foil-wrapped banh chung ready to cook in the Instant Pot

Recipe: Pressure Cooker Vietnamese New Year’s Square Rice Cakes

Notes: If you visit a Vietnamese, Chinese, or even Asian grocery store, you should be able to find all of these ingredients. Banana leaves can be fresh or frozen (I used frozen here). Make sure you get yellow split rung beans. Last year, I mistakenly bought mung beans still in their green shells, and it made for a coarse paste. I cooked my cakes in my Instant Pot, but you can use any pressure cooker, electric or stovetop.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb pork belly, cubed
  • 2 to 3 shallots, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp fish sauce, such as Red Boat
  • 1 (14 ozs) pkg split yellow mung beans, soaked in water overnight & drained
  • 3 tbsp diced fried onion or shallot (you can make these from scratch by shallow-frying diced onion in oil until crisp)
  • 5 lbs glutinous or sweet rice (gao nap), soaked in water overnight & drained
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 2 (16 ozs) pkgs banana leaves, thawed as needed
  • Accompaniments (optional):

  • soy or Maggi sauce
  • granulated or powdered sugar

Instructions

  1. Marinate pork: In a small bowl, mix together pork, shallots, fish sauce, 1 tsp kosher salt, and 1/2 tsp ground black pepper; cover and chill overnight.
  2. Cook beans: In a large saucepan, bring to boil mung beans in enough water to cover. Lower heat and simmer until tender, stirring occasionally, approx 25m. Drain and mash into a paste; stir in fried onion, 1 tbsp neutral oil, 2 tsp kosher salt, and 1 tsp ground black pepper.
  3. Form cakes: Season rice with sugar and 2 tbsp kosher salt. Cut banana leaves into 40 (6″ X 9″) pieces and 16 (4.5″ X 4.5″) squares; cut 8 (6″ X 9″) pieces in half lengthwise. In a 4.5″ X 4.5″ mold if using, arrange 4 (6″ X 9″) leaves in each corner with greener side facing outward, 1 (4.5”) square leaf at bottom with greener side facing up, and 2 (3″ X 9″) leaves around perimeter with greener sides facing inward. Layer approx 1 to 1.5 c rice, then 1/2 c bean paste, then 1/4 c pork, then 1/2 c bean paste, then 1 to 1.5 c rice again over top. Layer 1 (4.5”) square leaf over rice with greener side facing down, fold leaves to form a tight seal, remove mold, and tie with kitchen twine. Or just check out Runaway Rice’s video on how to wrap banh chung.
  4. Cook cakes using pressure cooking method in the Instant Pot: Wrap cakes in foil, Place in pressure cooker, and fill with water to maximum level. Cook on high pressure or 15 PSI for 1h 30m. Release pressure and cook on WARM or low heat for 1h 30m more. Transfer to ice bath for 10m; remove foil, drain, and rinse.
  5. Press cakes: Wrap cakes in towels and arrange in baking dish. Place heavy cutting boards on top and press cakes for 8h.
  6. Serve cakes warm with soy or Maggi sauce or sugar. To store, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for up to 2 wks or freeze for up to 6 mos.

Active time: 12h 30m
Total time: 2h
Yields: 8 (4.5”) cakes

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5 Discussion to this post

  1. Mai Tram Ho says:

    I am going to buy an Instant Pot and will cook Banh Chung in it. What size should I buy ? (6 or 8 quarts)
    Thanks,
    Mai

    • Christine Ha says:

      I believe my Instant Pot is a 6-qt, and I am able to fit about 3 banh chung in it. The size you select really depends on how much storage space you have to keep kitchen equipment and how much food you like to cook at once. We are only a family of 2, and a 6-qt pressure cooker often cooks meals with plenty of leftovers for us. Hope this helps.

  2. Troy Tran says:

    We just made 5 large Banh Chung cakes in both 6 and 8 qt pots. They came out nice and tasty. The hardest part is the wrapping since we don’t have the cake molding yet.

    Thank you for the recipe and instructions.

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