Long, long ago in Vietnam there lived an ancient
King, his name was King Hung Vuong. He was a wise
and thoughtful king who always tried to please his
people and consider new ideas and because of this
he was loved by his people. Eventually King Vuong
grew old and he knew that soon it would be time
to pass his kingdom on to his successor, the only
trouble was the King Vuong had three healthy sons
and he did not know who would be the best choice
to be King. King Vuong being a wise and caring King
thought very hard about this problem and in due
course came upon a solution.
He called his three sons together and he rose
up to his feet and declared; "Sons you are
all wise and strong but only one of you can rule
our precious Vietnam. So, I have devised a plan
to determine which of you shall rule after my
passing." All of the members of the court
and his three sons listening attentively because
King Vuong was known to be the wisest ruler in
the whole of Asia.
King Vuong continued; "I would like each
of you to provide for me a dish of food, you must
search for the ingredients and make the dish and
serve it to me on the last day of this Lunar Month,
and on the basis of this dish I will decide who
is to be the ruler of our Kingdom."
Immediately the words had left this King's mouth,
the attendants at the court began to talk in hushed
whispers. They knew that this was a very wise
pronouncement of their King because Vietnam with
its large population and small land area must
always give attention to food production to make
sure that each person is well fed and healthy.
The three brothers stared in disbelief; "How
could our father suggest such a method of deciding,
why does he not test our strength?" said
the first brother. "Why does he not he test
our computational skills?" said the second
brother. The third and youngest brother just looked
at the court and his father and made no comment.
Within days the two elder brothers had organized
their servants and horses and carriages and were
racing all over Vietnam and even to other parts
of South East Asia to find the most delectable
and delicious ingredients for the dish. One brother
took a boat out into the South China Sea to fish
for the finest tasting fish, the other brother
went into the Khmer Mountains to find the most
tender boar meat. Yet, Prince Tiet Lieu stayed
at home and sat on his front step and pondered
his father's request.
By the end of the Lunar Month each of the brothers
had prepared their dishes and came before the
whole of the Vietnamese royal court and their
wise father King Vuong to present it. The first
brother came to the father and presented a fine
porcelain dish of flying fish dressed in a sweet
Chili sauce and accompanied by costly lotus seeds.
A hush came over the court as the father viewed
the dish and placed it on the table. The second
brother came forward and he opened a large copper
cauldron and presented a joint of boar dressed
with wild mushrooms and a rare wild fern sauce.
Again all the court watched the father place the
cauldron on the table. Then Prince Tiet Lieu came
forward and opened his basket and displayed a
large flat rice cake. The court and his brothers
gasped, no-one would dare offer such simple fare
to the royal King Vuong.
King Vuong said, "Prince Tiet Lieu, tell
me why you have chosen to present me with such
a simple rice cake."
Prince Tiet Lieu said, "Rice is the most
precious and valuable of all food found in this
Kingdom, yet it is also the most abundant. I have
prepared a dish that represents my love for you
and our beautiful Vietnam. I have cooked it thoroughly
then molded it into a round rice cake, and called
it Banh Day as it symbolizes the sky we live under.
I have cooked a square rice cake, stuffed it with
cooked bean paste and ground meat in the middle
and called it Banh Chung. This will symbolize
the earth we live on."
As Prince Tiet Lieu spoke his two elder brothers
tried to mask the grandness of their dishes as
they now understood the wisdom of their younger
brother in using ingredients that all the people
of Vietnam could have access to. Immediately they
fell to their knees in front of their father and
younger brother and bowed at the same time the
whole court bowed to the father and son as everyone
knew that Prince Tiet Lieu would make the finest
King to rule after his wise father King Vuong.
After that, King Hung Vuong ordered that this
recipe be passed out to all people in his kingdom.
As the result, the Vietnamese custom is that
every year during the New Year celebration, the
Vietnamese people cook Banh Chung and Banh Day
and use them as special offerings to their ancestors
as well as special gifts to relatives and friends
during the Tet celebrations. The Banh Chung is
very nutritious, has an original tasty flavor
and may be kept for a long time. All of its ingredients
and materials, from the green wrapping leaves
to sticky rice and pork, green peas and pepper
inside, are all medicines (according to Oriental
Medicine) that act to keep harmony between the
positive and the negative, thus helping the blood
circulate well and preventing diseases.