The Return of the Vietnamese Bean Cake

It’s funny how a simple treat from the past can download a whole heap of memories into your consciousness.

Have you ever eaten Vietnamese green bean cake? This stuff takes me back.

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A friend, stopping by Malaysia coming from Vietnam, picked this up for my family. When we lived in Haiphong from 1994-1997, we were the recipients of countless boxes of the special sweet cake. If you haven’t ever had it, and most of you probably haven’t, it’s quite unique. It has an extremely crumbly texture with a beanish-almost peanutish taste. Super sweet and tasty.

When I was first given one of these boxes back in 1994, I probably mocked it behind the giver’s back simply because I still had my extremely bland, close-minded American palate. But there is something about nostalgia which brings back the sweetness of the past – even if the past seemed short of it at the time. One bite of it yesterday was truly wonderful – both on the mouth and the mind. Here’s what it looks like on the inside.

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This wonderful treat is the claim to fame of Hai Duong, a sleepy little town midway between Hanoi and Haiphong. We used to regularly ride the train to Hanoi and as it made its 10 minute stop in Hai Duong, the vendors would pile on the train, hawking their wares – especially their green bean cakes. I never bought them. I lacked a need of it since my students at the time kept me and my child well-stocked.

So on this eve of the Vietnamese New Year, it was nice to have a little treat from the good old days in Haiphong. I’ll always remember those little stops in Hai Duong. Oh, and by the way, Hai Duong has another claim to fame – lychee – some of the best, fresh lychee in the world are grown there, ripe each late May. How I miss it!

Happy Tet everyone!

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