​Vietnam's Specialties



VIETNAMESE SANDWICH
 Together with Pho and spring roll, Vietnamese sandwich has become so famous and popular in many countries that it is included as a new word in the American dictionary.
Vietnamese sandwich is a type of loaf bread made from wheat flour. The loaf is chopped vertically so that paste, meat, mayonnaise and vegetables such as onion, cucumber, carrot and coriander… can be stuffed. Chili sauce and soy sauce are then added. Special attraction of this dish comes from its ingredients which are adapted subtly to suit diners' taste; for instance, margarine is used instead of fatty butter. The sour and crispy stuffing helps balance perfectly the fatty and buttery elements. The harmonious combination of ingredients in the Vietnamese sandwich represents the characteristics of Vietnamese culinary art - harmony in diversity.
The kind of bread used to make sandwiches originates from the baguette bread imported by the French into Viet Nam in the early 19th century. During its adaptation, Sai Gon people modified the baguette bread and made it into a kind of bread characterized by Sai Gon style with more stuffing and length of 30 or 40 centimeters. From then on, the sandwich has become familiar and popular in Sai Gon. Nowadays, the sandwich stuffing is creatively modified with other ingredients being added like steak and fried fish.
With its convenience and reasonable price, Vietnamese sandwiches are available at almost every corner in Sai Gon city: from luxurious places to underprivileged residential quarters, from big restaurants to street vendors. The sandwich has become a popular breakfast for people of all social strata from officials to students and laborers...
From Sai Gon, the sandwich spreads to other regions of the country and being modified to suit the taste of local people; it is also considered as a fast food during the day.
The introduction of the Vietnamese sandwich to the outside world began relatively early. After 1975, the sandwich followed the Vietnamese community to enter the U.S., Australia and Canada and became popular in these countries. In March 2012, the tourist column of The Guardian - a famous newspaper of the United Kingdom - voted Vietnamese burgers as one of the top 10 street food that most attract tourists.

SQUARE CAKES AND ROUND CAKES
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The square cake and round cake are two traditional specialties of Viet Nam, often used at festivals, Lunar New Year celebrations and important rituals. Legend of these cakes has it that, after defeating An invaders, Hung King intended to hand the throne to his children. He summoned 22 mandarins and princesses, saying "I want to hand the throne to the one who can please me by offering delicacies to my ancestors at the end of the year, showing my filial respect to ancestors". Everyone headed towards different directions looking for delicacies, except Lang Lieu, the 18th mandarin who was a motherless child since early childhood; he did not know what to do. One night, he was instructed by a God to make cake "Take glutinous rice to make two cakes: a square one and a round one that symbolize heaven and earth; the cakes are wrapped in big leaves. Inside the cakes are delicious ingredients which imply gratitude paid to parents". Lang Lieu followed what the God had instructed him and was handed the crown.
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From then on, during Lunar New Year celebrations, the square cakes and round cakes are often offered as tributes to the ancestors and the universe.
The square cake is square as it is called, symbolizing the earth. It is wrapped by arrowroot leaves with the surface being turned inwards to keep the color of the cake naturally green, and then tied with bamboo strips. Ingredients for this comprise glutinous rice, mung beans, pork, pepper and onion…. The cake is square with each side of about 15-17 centimeters and thickness of 4-6 centimeters. It should be cooked for 10-15 hours continually so that the cake will have the softness of sticky rice and buttery taste of mung bean mixing with sweetness of meat...
The square cake demonstrates the culinary philosophy and the culture of Vietnamese people: carefully prepared, meticulous and well-made…, showing the gratitude of Vietnamese people to their ancestors. The square cake is a reflection of the wet rice civilization's sophistication to the culinary art of Viet Nam.
The making and enjoying square cakes during Lunar New Year celebrations manifest the cultural fineness of the Vietnamese people. After the square cake is offered to the ancestors, family members enjoy the cake together. Square cake cutting is regarded as an art: the cake is divided into equal pieces with equal outer and inner parts. Normally, people use the bamboo strings that are used to wrap the cake to devide it into eight evenly triangle pieces. The square cake, therefore, is an illustration of the Vietnamese culture: unity, sociability, consideration, equality and ritualism.
Square cakes are always accompanied by round cakes, which are made from glutinous rice and paired up to symbolize yin and yang. As it is called, the round cake is round, smoothly white, slightly aromatic of sticky rice, sweetly flavored and pure. To make the cake, cooked sticky rice is finely brayed until it turns smooth. Then it is pinched into evenly and round parts of about 5-7 centimeters in diameter and about 1 centimeter in thickness. Round cakes used for offerings are white without stuffing, served with lean pork paste or salt and sesame.
The making of round cake manifests the cohesion of the Vietnamese people which normally requires the synergy of a group: at least 3 or 4 people must work together to mix, bray and mold the cakes. Making a delicious and nice cake often requires the strength of the men and the skill of the women.
Made from glutinous rice, a simple and rustic ingredient yet valuable to farmers, the round cake represents a fine combination of good values and the meticulous work which is broadly respected.
Although simple, the square cake and round cake express the sentiments, moral principles and cultural beauty of the Vietnamese people, all together making up the value of the cakes.
In May 2014, Vietnamese square cake is listed as one of the top 10 traditional specialties in the world by the National Geographic magazine.

WEST LAKE LOTUS TEA
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Lotus scented tea of the West Lake is known as an art of making and enjoying tea of Hanoians.
Made from carefully selected materials and gone through an elaborate process, West Lake lotus scented tea is commonly regarded as a treasure of Ha Noi City. Hundreds of years ago, this kind of premium tea was exclusively used as tributes to the Lord and the noble beings.
Embalming lotus tea is an extremely sophisticated and meticulous job. Lotus used for embalmment must be fragrant; each flower should have more than one hundred petals and be grown in Quang Ba area of the West Lake. Lotuses growing in the fertile mud of the lakes in this area are more beautiful than others. The lotus is multi-layered with pink petals and a gold pistil with a sweet fragrance.
West Lake lotus season lasts from mid-May to early September. At the peak of maturity, thousands of fragrant lotuses are picked to prepare for tea embalmment. The lotus must be picked before sunrise when its scent still remains. Lotus stamen seeds are taken from selected lotuses; they can be used to embalm the tea. Around 80 to 100 lotuses are needed in order to produce 100 grams of lotus stamen seeds; 200 grams of lotus stamen seeds are needed to embalm one kilogram of tea. Therefore, it requires about 1,400 lotuses to get one kilogram of lotus scented tea.
To embalm tea, each layer of tea is alternated with a layer of stamen seeds, so on; the tea then is covered with a piece of paper and put in a small chamber for incubation. The case used for tea embalmment should be like the tray used for betrothal ceremony. In order to prevent the tea from being decayed, one should stir it every 4-6 hours; the tea embalmment lasts from 36 to 48 hours depending on the moisture of tea and stamen seeds. The next step is to remove the used stamen seeds and dry the tea. It should be dried in such a way to evaporate the moisture but still retain the lotus scent. The drying cycle is carried out repeatedly until the tea is fully imbued with lotus fragrance and ready for use. Sophisticated as it is, the production of West Lake lotus scented tea often requires the experience of skillful embalming artisans who are widely honored as craftsmen.
The art of enjoying West Lake lotus scented tea is also as sophisticated as the process of production. An ideal venue for drinking traditional lotus tea is under the eaves looking over the lotus lake. Tea drinkers sit on a wooden platform, enjoying the taste of lotus scented tea and the beauty of just blossoming lotuses at a fresh and pure climate. When being prepared with water, lotus tea turns honey yellow with a pleasantly light scent. In order to deeply sense the beauty of lotus tea, tea drinkers must stay in a delicate and refined mood; they can enjoy tea while contemplating the scenery, making poems, having a quiet chat or being deep in thought. The climate for drinking tea, therefore, is very tranquil. This simple, gracious style of tea drinking is a distinctive feature of the Vietnamese Tea art.
Lotus scented tea is seen by the Vietnamese as a valuable product that represents the Vietnamese characteristics and culture. Today, many enterprises have invested in the production of lotus scented tea and introduced a variety of convenient products such as tea bags, bringing the tea to more consumers.
Lotus stamen seeds are used to embalm tea. Each layer of tea is alternated with a layer of stamen seeds, put in a small terra-cotta pot and incubated in a warm chamber for three days. After that, the used seeds are removed and the tea is dried before the new cycle begins with new seeds. This cycle is repeated around 7 times to produce a batch of lotus scented tea. No more than three kilos of tea is embalmed in one batch.
When autumn comes, Hanoians usually have a delicate pleasure to enjoy lotus scented tea with young green rice flakes or Lang Vong green rice flake cake - a distinctive product of Ha Noi. Lang Vong young green rice flakes (Vong village is located in Cau Giay district) have been famous for its smoothness and good taste in Ha Noi. The flakes are made of young glutinous rice which are green in color. Young green rice flakes are the embodiment of the skill, diligence and creativity of the paddy farmers.
To have well-cooked and tasty green rice flake cakes, a sophisticated making process is required. For making the cake, only mature green rice flakes can be used since young rice flakes can be dissolved in sugar thus cannot make up the outer coat of the cake. The green rice flakes are dried and put in pots or jars, or packed up tightly to avoid from moisture. To make cakes, 1 kilogram of green rice flakes is mixed well with 1.3 liters of water until the rice flakes become soft; sugar is added in the ratio of 1 kilogram of sugar to 1 kilogram of green rice flakes. When cooking, the green rice flakes should be stirred well; otherwise, it may become pasty if under-heated or burnt if overheated. When the cooking is about to finish, some drops of pomelo flower essence are added to create a special flavor for the product.
A well-made green rice flake cake has the color of natural green rice flakes which are yellowish green. It must look flat with observable stuffing of shining yellow green beans.
It is the perfectly matching flavor that West Lake lotus scented tea and Lang Vong green rice flake cakes - the quintessence of culinary art of Ha Noi - are often chosen as offerings in the betrothal trays of Hanoians.

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