An Indonesian living in Canada has recently surprised many Vietnamese people with his homemade 'banh chung' to celebrate Tet, or Vietnam's Lunar New Year, which starts on February 1 this year.
Developing his love for Vietnam and its people and culture since visiting the Southeast Asian country in 2018 and 2019, 38-year-old Herman, who works as a chef at a French restaurant, decided to observe the country’s Lunar New Year.
Despite living in Quebec where Vietnamese ingredients are not available at every corner, Herman insisted on making banh chung, a savory dish made of sticky rice, mung beans, and pork, all wrapped in leaves and boiled in a big pot.
Banh chung is a staple for Tet in Vietnam, especially in the northern region.
“To celebrate the coming Lunar New Year, I am making a traditional cake called banh chung, a square sticky rice cake filled with mung beans and pork belly that is usually consumed in Vietnamese family meals during New Year,” Herman said of the dish in his YouTube video.
In the clip published on January 6, the Indonesian man instructed his audience with every step of the process, from soaking sticky rice in water overnight, to cooking mung bean paste, and marinating the meat with spices.
The hardest part of making banh chung is always the wrapping step.
For his banh chung, Herman used a square carton mold and banana leaves and placed sticky rice, mung bean paste and belly pork in the middle. He later showed the audience his way to wrap them all.
“I use frozen banana leaves bought from an Asian shop,” Herman revealed in his video.
|A screenshot from a YouTube video in which Indonesian Herman instructs the audience to make Vietnamese 'banh chung.' In this stage, he is showing viewers how to wrap 'banh chung' before bring it to a boil.|
After that, Herman brought his banh chung to a boil for eight hours.
“It tastes so good, sticky rice skin is soft and chewy, tasty mung bean with the meaty pork belly is really awesome,” he said while trying a piece of the banh chung he made. “I love banh chung!”
According to Herman, he had made banh chung every year since he found out about the amazing Vietnamese dish.
“I learned that banh chung is the most traditional dish for the Tet holiday in Vietnam, so I must have banh chung to celebrate Vietnamese New Year,” Herman wrote in Vietnamese to Tuoi Tre News in an email from Quebec.
“Although the ingredients were hard to find, I still tried to get enough or use similar materials alternatively."
|A supplied photo of Vietnamese 'banh chung' made to celebrate Tet by Indonesian Herman, who lives in Quebec, Canada|
With his fluent written Vietnamese, Herman also shared his work of banh chung on Yeu Bep (Esheep Kitchen Family), a Facebook forum for cooking enthusiasts with more than 2.2 million members in Vietnam, and received positive feedback.
Many members of the forum have flocked to praise the Indonesian man for his effort, as well as his dedication to Vietnamese Tet celebration.
Herman, who is Indonesian and Chinese, even runs 'a series' of foods to celebrate the Lunar New Year festival in his kitchen in Quebec, featuring banh tam khoai mi (steamed cassava silkworm cake), seafood spring rolls, along with banh chung.
|A supplied photo of 'banh tam khoai mi' (steamed cassava silkworm cake) made to celebrate the Lunar New Year festival by Indonesian Herman, who lives in Quebec, Canada|
|A supplied photo of seafood spring rolls made to celebrate the Lunar New Year festival by Indonesian Herman, who lives in Quebec, Canada|
A Vietnamese banh mi and coffee shop
Besides the special foods dedicated to the Lunar New Year, Herman said he often cooks Vietnamese dishes at home for daily meals, along with Indonesian and Western food.
“Vietnamese food is indispensable to my life,” he said.
The chef said he learned to cook Vietnamese foods from the Internet and groups of Vietnamese cooking enthusiasts as well as his Vietnamese friends.
“If I fail a dish, I will cook it over and over again until I succeed,” he divulged.
So far, Herman has been able to cook nearly 20 Vietnamese dishes, with banh chung being his favorite.
|A supplied photo of Herman and the dishes he cooks at home in Quebec, Canada to celebrate the 2021 Lunar New Year festival|
Knowing five languages, namely Indonesian, Chinese, English, French and Vietnamese, Herman said he has been studying Vietnamese by himself for the past six years.
During his first years as a student in Australia, he got help from his Vietnamese friends.
He said he is quite good at reading and writing Vietnamese but not at listening and speaking due to the lack of an environment to practice.
Herman first came to Vietnam in 2018 for a travel trip and came back to visit the Southeast Asian country only a year later.
During the two trips, Herman traveled throughout the country from north to south to relish the natural landscapes, learn about local culture and cuisine, as well as experience Tet holiday.
“A memory that I remembered the most was in December 2018, on the day [when] Vietnam competed with Malaysia at the 2018 AFF Championship, I joined the crowd at Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi and cheered for the Vietnamese team,” he recalled.
“Everyone hugged each other, danced and cheered, regardless of friends or strangers, Vietnamese or foreigners.
“That moment made me [truly] impressed and excited.”
However, it was not until Herman arrived in Vietnam in person that he had his interest in the country.
“When I was in Australia, I had many best friends who are Vietnamese at school and at my part-time job, so I had chances to learn and integrate into the Vietnamese culture, cuisine and lifestyle,” he explained.
Herman’s love for Vietnam even prompted him to plan to run a shop in his neighborhood where he would sell Vietnamese banh mi and coffee to showcase Vietnamese cuisine.