Banh gai was a specialty served on special occasions, at village festivals and New Year festivals, and as an offering to the King, and later to village founders and national heroes.
Today banh gai is popularly served. Le Huu Lam is famous for his thorn leaf cake.
Lam said, “The cake is made from thorn leaves. The black thorn leaves are dried, then boiled in water. The tough fibers are removed, and the thorn leaves are repeatedly squeezed to lessen their pungent smell. Then they are placed in a mortar and thoroughly mixed with glutinous rice flour”.
Lam’s family has been making banh gai for a long time. Lam’s mother, Nguyen Thi Tam, said, “No one knows when banh gai was first made. I started making this kind of cake when I was just a little girl in Mia village. It’s a painstaking process to make banh gai. In the past, we made everything by hand. It’s much easier now with the help of machines”.
Another villager Nguyen Thi Hang said choosing the right ingredients is the most important factor. The glutinous rice flour should be made from the best glutinous rice.
You must mix ground glutinous rice and thorn leaves with molasses to create a black dough. Let it rest for one night so that it is not too dry or too wet. This stage is a challenging one that requires absolute delicacy on the part of the makers.
The dough is ground in the mortar again until it is sticky and has become a velvety, shiny black dough. Making the filling also requires many steps.
Ms. Hang noted, “Mung beans are steamed and ground. Coconut meat is grated into thin strips. The grated coconut is mixed with sugar, mung bean, pork fat, and a little banana oil”.
The dough is spread in the palm, the filling is put in, and the dough is rolled into small balls. Coat the cake with a little liquid fat to keep it tender, and finally sprinkle some roasted sesame seeds on top. The cake is wrapped in dried banana leaves.
Le Huu Lam said the banana leaves must also be chosen carefully. He added, “The banana leaves are left to dry naturally. The drier the leaves, the better, because then they can absorb the moisture of the cakes and the cakes will keep longer”.
After wrapping, thorn leaf cakes are steamed for about 1 hour. The fragrance of dried banana leaves, thorn leaves, and mung bean filling awakens everyone’s taste buds. Many Mia villagers still make banh gai to preserve their specialty and promote it to other areas.