20.07.2021, 09:10

The taste of turmeric: Thái Bình's bánh nghệ

Quý Dương

Thai Bình Province is well known for its banh nghe (turmeric cake), a traditional rice-based cake that has existed for hundreds of years.

It’s one of many popular cakes from the province. Others include banh cay (cay cake), banh nếp (sticky rice), banh chưng (square cake), or banh mật (molasses-sweetened glutinous rice cake) but not quite the same local baker, Trần Thị Đao says.

“It’s different from other cakes… people can eat a lot and they don’t need to be afraid to eat too much,” she says.

Tiền Hải District’s, Nam Trung Village is considered the birthplace of banh nghe. Many local villagers make a living preparing and selling these cakes to people of all ages.

“This rural popular cake is enjoyed by not only adults but also children because of its soft, fragrant rice and turmeric. It is also very nutritious,” she said.

The taste of turmeric: Thái Bình's bánh nghệ
Dumplings are put in the middle of turmeric dough. They are balled before being steamed. Photo nghienbep.com

To make the cake the rice is soaked in water for 4-5 hours and then ground into a half wet and half dry dough. Turmeric is ground down and its essence is filtered into a turmeric juice. The turmeric is added to the dough and the mix is steamed.

For the filling Đao adds diced onions, minced pork scraps, a touch of cinnamon powder and fish sauce and fries it up in a skillet.

Then it’s a matter of bringing the dough and the filling together.

Đao says the dough should be divided into small balls about the size of a chicken egg. The filling is pushed into the centre of the ball. They are then steamed on the fresh banana leaves for 30 minutes.

“The cake is tastier when enjoyed hot,” she says.

Making a living selling banh nghe however, takes hard work.

“We have to wake up very early in the morning to make the cake so that we can bring it to the market at 5am,” Đao says.

But Đao says she enjoys it. 

“I’m glad and happy because my customers are increasing and I have many repeat customers who enjoy my cakes.”

“During special occasions like Tết, I often receive a lot of orders from diners in Hải Phòng, HCM City and other southern provinces. Sometimes my relatives in the US also ask me to send them cakes too,” she says.

Fresh turmeric is one of the main ingredients in the cake. Photo cnthucpham.donga.edu.vn

Nguyễn Văn Biểu, who was born in Thai Bình’s Nam Trung Village, now works in Ha Noi, and says that he often takes his children back to the village’s Quan Market to enjoy banh nghe.

“It is a very good chance for me to share the story of the cake that is so closely connected to my childhood and now to my children,” he says.

“I told them that I was very happy [as a child] because every morning before going to school my mother would often give me one or two banh nghe. For me, it was an excellent breakfast that I can never forget,” Biểu says.

He said banh nghe is very good for the digestive system and physical development because the cake does not have any preservatives or colouring products.

Locals are happy to enjoy the cakes. Photo thaibinhtv.vn

Village herbalist Bui Văn Thể said turmeric is considered a good traditional anti-inflammatory medicine that has detoxifying properties and increases resistance to disease.

“The turmeric may also give women good skin and prevent postnatal problems for pregnant women,” Thể said. She went on to recommend banh nghe as a good gift for pregnant women.

Travellers to the province that want to try the tastiest and nutritious turmeric cake should visit local markets in Nam Trung and Nam Thanh villages, Thể advises. VNS