Sweet New Year began with chè

    We heard dapples of fireworks last night, other than that, everything was normal. TV had the usual shows, roads had the usual cars, the usual air, the feeling of a usual day. Isn’t that strange? New Year came quietly in this town, but with all the bombing and protesting around the world, I suppose a quiet peaceful New Year’s Eve is a nice New Year’s Eve. No champagne, no confetti, no wishes, no counting down. We slept.

    But how about some black eyed pea? 🙂 Not only is it a traditional American New Year’s food, it always appears in a baby’s first (and most important) birthday in Vietnam (quite a connection, I know… but a good bean, isn’t it?). The word “đậu” for bean, or pea, has the same spelling with the word for passing (an examination), chè is a dessert, so chè đậu trắng is a sweet food of good luck for the beginning of something. Cooked until soft, washed with cold water, the hard “black eye” part of the testa taken off, then cooked again with sticky rice and preferably brown sugar, the beans melt in your mouth. In an average pot of che dau trang, you see the sticky rice makes a gluey protection of the beans, the seed coat is still just a tad chewy, your jaws and tongue will enjoy a mix of texture. This might be exclusively enjoyable for those with an eye on texture food, myself included. In a good pot of che dau trang, you can see each grain of sticky rice and each shapely pea, but each spoon will only give you a sweet, nutty, almost homogeneous mixture. Oh, can’t forget the slightly salty, thick and fat coconut milk, of course. Coconut milk makes everything aptly better.

    Coconut milk sneaked in here too… A small cup of chè bột báng (tapioca chè) from Lee’s Sandwiches. The big pink and green balls have mung bean paste inside, the little ones are your usual tapioca marbles in bubble tea (only slightly bigger and not dark brown). There is no sticky rice, but there is a teaspoon of pan-dried sesame seeds atop. Chewy and sweet is the main theme che bot bang shoots for. It’s pretty light.

    Che is a vegan snack. Sticky rice, bean and coconut are about the main ingredients in any kind, some have fruits or roots, but eggs and milk stay out of this business. So how many variations of che do you think there are? Quite a few, actually. Chè bắp (corn), chè bột báng (tapioca), chè bột khoai, chè củ năng (water chesnut), chè củ mài (a kind of yam), chè chuối (banana), chè đậu xanh (mung bean), chè đậu đen (black bean), chè đậu đỏ (azuki bean), chè đậu trắng (black eyed pea), chè hạt sen (lotus seed), hạt mít (jack fruit seed), chè hạnh nhân (chesnut), chè nhãn (longan), chè khoai lang (sweet potato), khoai môn (taro), khoai mì (cassava root)…, and many others I haven’t tried. Are there similar desserts in other countries? I don’t know, but certainly not in the US, where people say ew to soy milk (and not to raw clams). Kim Son, quite to my disappointment, has stopped serving che dau trang for some while, but still has chè trôi nước, another familiar dessert of the Vietnamese, especially in the North, where some call it bánh trôi, as it’s a ball floating in sugar liquid. Such simple name is made simpler, pronunciatively, by the Southerner, when they turn it into chè xôi nước: xôi – sweet sticky rice (the coat of the ball is indeed made of sticky rice flour), in nước – (sugar) water. The stuffing is, surprise surprise, Mung Bean Paste. Sweet outside, mild and nutty inside. A beast to work your jaw. Doesn’t it remind you of banh it? Sprinkle some sesame seeds and spoon in coconut milk for a homey taste of the countryside.

    Off to a well-seasoned new year, everyone! 🙂

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