Coconut has become an essential part of people’s lives in Hoai Nhon District, Binh Dinh. The coconut trees provide food, shade and protect the area from the sun and the storms. That’s why the people here add coconut flavor in many of their dishes.
Banh trang dua (Coconut rice paper)
The main ingredient for making banh trang dua is flour. Cassava are peeled and pureed into a floury and watery mixture. Then the water is separated from the flour. The final product is mixed with clean water in a certain ratio along with some other ingredients to make the rice paper.
Coconut rice paper, of course, cannot be completed without coconut. The coconut must not be too ripe so that the pulp is sweet, thick and soft. The pulp is then mixed with thick coconut milk with some spices, scallion, pepper and put into the rice paper mixture. The final mixture is steamed to make a batch of delicious coconut rice paper.
In the past, coconut rice paper here was quite big. But later, for convenience of transportation, the size has been reduced, though still bigger and thicker than other types of rice paper. On the charcoal stove, the coconut rice paper puffs up, the purple onion and ripe sesame bring up a fragrant aroma, mixed with the sweet coconut scent.
Stacks of coconut rice paper in Hoai Nhon, Binh Dinh. Photo by VnExpress/Viet An
Banh trung (Black beans and coconut cake)
Just three or four banh trung can fill a stomach. Compared to other types of cakes, banh trung is less well known, partly because it is more difficult to keep fresh. This is a type of cake that is cooked and served immediately as it can easily go stale after a day.
The crust is made from whole wheat flour. The dough is kneaded thoroughly so that it is soft and does not stick to the hands. If too wet, the dough will melt, if too dry, it will break. Take a little piece of dough, stretch it out, add the filling and roll it into a ball. The filling of banh trung is shredded coconut, black beans, onions, garlic, pepper and spices. Black beans are stewed in advance until soft and then mixed with the rest of the ingredients. Then the cake is brought to boil or steamed for about 10-15 minutes until the crust turns clear.
When finished cooking, the cake is lightly brushed with onion or shallot oil to give it an amazing aroma and prevent sticking.
Banh trung has a thin, almost transparent crust and is slightly chewy. The black bean filling is soft and rich, with a touch of crunch from the coconut.
A dish of banh trung. Photo by Viet An
Banh hong (Pink cake)
Speaking of delicacies in Hoai Nhon, banh hong is essential. It is made from premium glutinous rice flour and shredded coconut. Wet glutinous rice flour is mixed with water to create a bit of chew and then cooked in a pan of sugar water. This stage requires the cook to stir constantly so that the dough is cooked evenly. When the dough is cooked, add the coconut that has been soaked in the sugar mixture.
The cooked dough is put in the mold and then sprinkled with some roasted tapioca flour to prevent sticking.
A big piece of banh hong is cut into bite sizes and served with Vietnamese tea to bring out the gentle scent of glutinous rice, the rich aroma of coconut, the soft and chewy texture and the sophistication of this delicacy.
A batch of banh hong. Photo by Viet An