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Banh Gio: Hanoi’s Winter Snack

As the New Year is always anticipated throughout the world because of its festive mood and hope for a fresh beginning, it is even more so in Vietnam because of a particular food which is only available around this time – banh gio, a rice snack which is very affordable yet exceptionally delicious.

Banh gio is essentially pyramid-shaped a rice dough dumpling wrapped in layers of banana leaves with fillings of minced pork and wood ear mushrooms. It is a traditional Vietnamese dish which is a favorite among locals and tourists alike because of its distinct soft, gooey texture and versatile factor in which it can be eaten as a main course or as a snack depending on one’s preference or hunger at the time.

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The best thing about banh gio perhaps is that while most may think that this food is expensive because of the high demand for it, it is actually very cheap at only VND15,000 – 30,000 (70 cents  – US$1.40) and just sold on the streets on stands or carried around by vendors for anybody and everybody’s access and satisfaction on a cold weather.

There are two ways to eat banh gio, either by hand or by spoon. “Safe eaters” use spoon because eating it can indeed get messy. But the “experts” eat it by hand, just spreading the leaves and then biting right into the juicy goodness of banh gio because according to them, this is the best way to fully taste and enjoy the meal. There are also several ways to serve banh gio, either as it is or accompanied by a side dish such as cha, gio (Vietnamese sausage), grilled pork, chilli sauce, cucumber or soy sauce.

Also referred to as cake because of its incredible softness, banh gio is especially popular among students for its affordability and convenience. They eat it as breakfast, snack, after-dinner treat or just about any time of the day. As such, many banh gio stalls can be seen near schools. It is also sold in markets and generally in any street in Hanoi.    

There are several famous banh gio stores in Vietnam. One is in Hanoi and owned by Madam Luy. Located at the corner of Tran Xuan Soan Street near Hom Market, it is a small, simple diner yet always full of customers because of its unique jelly-like smoothness and added treat of gio cha. The banh gio here is always fresh, guaranteeing its clients of a hot and tasty meal all the time. The cakes sell out almost as soon as they are made because of their exceptional goodness, so would-be buyers should go there early and buy more than one piece to fully enjoy Madam Luy’s banh gio.    

Another popular banh gio maker in Vietnam is at Dong Cac Street, known for its side dishes of fried sausage, grilled pork and cucumber. For VND30,000, you will get a big serving of banh gio with yummy side treats.

Thuy Khue Street got its fame for making large-sized banh gio, almost twice the traditional size. The cake is so in-demand here that vendors can sell between 500 – 600 pieces per day.   

There are other famous traditional Vietnamese dishes: Banh Chung – square sticky rice cake; Banh Giay – white flat cake made of glutinous rice with or without mung beans inside; Banh Ran – fried pancake; and Banh Tom Ho Tay – deep fried shrimp cake in West Lake. But Banh Gio seems to be the favorite among them all because of its one-of-a-kind, heavenly softness and surprisingly but delightfully affordable price.

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