Banh Khao is a layered dessert that resembles a block of chocolate. The bright colour of the treat is what catches your eye. Banh Khao is usually sold in convenience stores and mini-marts, so it is no wonder that not many Malaysians are familiar with this dessert. Besides pho and rice paper spring rolls, Vietnamese desserts are also unique and not to be missed.
What is Banh Khao?
Originating from the region of Cao Bang, Banh Khao is, in essence, a three-layered sweet cake cut into rectangular pieces. The top and bottom layers are made of glutinous rice powder, while the middle filling is usually peanut, sesame or pork fat.
Every bite of Banh Kao is a combination of sweet, buttery and savoury flavours. Besides, because the block is rather small and soft, it acts a light snack rather than a dessert. The buttery biscuit has a slightly powdery finish as well. Banh Kao is best enjoyed alongside a cup of tea to balance out the dry feeling from your mouth after eating the snack.
When is Banh Khao eaten?
Though Banh Khao can be bought from most stores in Cao Bang all year round. Traditionally, the dessert was reserved only for Tet, the Vietnamese New Year.
During Tet, many Vietnamese ethnic groups practice different customs and proceedings. As Banh Khao is native to the Nung tribe, the dish has been used as offerings to worship their ancestors. In any Nung household, you’ll be able to find bars of Banh Khao sitting by the altar of deceased family members.
There’s also a famous saying in Cao Bang that as long as there is Banh Khao in a home, it is still considered a Tet holiday due to the festive significance of the food.
The Processes of Making Banh Khao
Simple in appearance, tedious in the making. This dessert may look simple, but the process of making it takes patience as it is quite meticulous.
First, lightly toast the rice in a pan before grinding them into powder form. Add oil and eggs and mix until it creates a thick texture. Pour the mixture into a square pan and sand it down till it becomes a flat surface.
Next, follow the same step for the middle layer, but now with the addition of sesame or peanut powder. Layer it above the rice mixture and sand down as usual.
Use the remaining powder to cover the rest of the sweet cake. When the cake is solidified, Banh Khao is ready to be cut into rectangular blocks for consumption.
It is due to the considerable effort of making this treat that families come together half a month before Tet to prepare the treat as a way of embracing the new year.
Banh Khao In Other Forms
While not much is known about the traditional Vietnamese sweet cake, there seems to be a similar-looking dessert, known in Chinese culture, as 沙糕(pronounced ‘sa gao’).
More in-depth research has shown that these two – the Banh Khao and Sa Gao – are in fact, the same dish due to the shared origin. Before globalisation or migration, the Nung people mostly resided in China, and when some tribes moved to Northern Vietnam, the practice of eating and using sa gao during the Lunar New Year was brought along with them.
This also explains how most Banh Khao found in Vietnam are stamped with the Chinese word “福” (pronounced fu) at the back as a symbol for good luck.
Where to Find Banh Khao in Malaysia
With the help of foodpanda, you can find these sweet desserts at Vietnamese speciality stores. Search for your nearest ones now!