For Haley Nguyen, the traditional Banh Chung cake brings back a lot of memories, including staying up all night preparing it.
Nguyen, the chef and owner of Xanh Bistro in Fountain Valley, grew up in a small village in Vietnam before immigrating to the United States in 1975. When her village celebrated the Vietnamese new year, Tet, her family and others made enough Banh Chung for everyone.
The cake, an intricate mix of rice, pork and mashed mung beans, takes eight hours to boil, and those eight hours were an essential part of the Tet celebration. As the village elders gathered to tell ghost stories, fairy tales and family histories, Nguyen and others would stoke the fire under the oil drum that held the cakes and keep the water level high.
Nguyen, who has run Xanh Bistro for three years, works in a much more high-tech environment than she knew growing up. But when she hits the kitchen Friday to prepare for the following day's Tet festivities, she'll create Banh Chung the old-fashioned way, mashing the beans by hand and individually wrapping each cake in banana leaves.