The central province of Bình Định is famed for its spectacular landscapes and unique delicacies that can't be found elsewhere.
Banh hồng (pink cake) is one such dish and the dessert is made from the local sticky rice genre named ngự, which is fragrant and soft.
Though the cake has a simple and rough appearance, it symbolises happiness.
Locals have a saying: “When you invite me to have pink cake, it means you are about to get married."
Though it's called pink cake, the dessert is actually opalescent from the inside out. No locals I asked seemed to be able to completely explain where the pink name comes from.
“Like cốm cake (a dessert made from young rice and stuffed with minced beans) – a delicacy of Ha Noi, which is used in engagement ceremonies and weddings, Bình Định people use pink cake as the gifts from the groom to the bride’s family on such occasions,” said local Huỳnh Tai.
“Maybe as the bride's family distributes the cakes to friends and relatives together with the pink wedding invitation cards, the cake is named pink in that sense,” he said.
The pink colour means the announcement of the couple's happiness, he added.
When eating the cake, one will feel the soft and fragrant taste of the rice combining with the crispy coconut strings inside and the gentle sweet taste of sugar.
Tam Quan Ward in Hoai Nhơn Town of Bình Định, which hosts the most coconut trees in the central region, produces the best pink cake in the province.
Coconut is an important ingredient for making the cake and another delicacy named banh trang nưoc dừa (coconut pancake).
Le Thị Hai, a local woman, said the simple cake requires hard work.
“To make the cake soft and have a good smell, good sticky rice should be chosen, then soaked in water and minced,” she said. “Then the powder is made into small pieces, which are boiled in water. The powder piece should be cooked properly for the next stage.”
In the meantime, sugar is heated till it melts into a paste in another saucepan. The rice powder quickly mixes with the well-cooked powder into the melted sugar.
“Experienced cake makers know how to control the heat so that the powder mixture doesn't burn or get too thick.
“When the mixture is well cooked, the cake maker pours the powder mixture onto a tray cover with some dry sticky rice powder.
“Some flaked coconut and milk is added in the mixture to add more flavour. People can also dye the mixture into with some minced leaves of the pineapple plant,” she said.
The soft pink cake, which is often made 3-4cm thick, is often put on a big tray. When a guest visits, the host will cut the cake into small pieces.
“The cake is often enjoyed with hot tea,” she said. “Gentle sweet and fragrance of sticky rice, coconut and milk will mingle well with the scent of tea.”
Though the dessert is tasty, it contains no preservatives and can be used within four days at room temperature. If kept longer, it will become tough.
So don’t forget to bring some packages of pink cake home as a special gift from Quy Nhơn, the land of wind, sunshine and coconuts.
The simple delicacy contains the sweetness of the land and people’s labour.
According to Phung Thuy Trinh, owner of a cake workshop in Quy Nhơn City, the pandemic has seriously affected her work.
"We had to cut capacity as consumption is sharply reduced," she said. "There are fewer tourists visiting the town while we could not reach our biggest clients in HCM City in the past few days as the city has been locked down. Goods from other provinces cannot be transported as easily as before to HCM City."
Trinh said she now maintains 40 per cent of productivity to serve orders inside the province.
Before the pandemic, she could sell up to 100 packages of pink cakes to tourists in Quy Nhơn besides other kinds of local delicacies. Every week, she sent a small truck carrying local delicacies to buyers in other provinces and HCM City.
Lưu Minh Nghĩa, a confectionary dealer in HCM City who buys delicacies from Quy Nhơn, said most of her partners in Quy Nhơn including the pink cake producers have suspended operations.
"Yesterday, a frequent customer called me and order the pink cake but I have no packages left as the partners in Quy Nhơn could not carry any more pink cake to me during this lockdown period," she said.
"I had to reassure my customer that the lockdown period will be over soon and transportation will be resumed so that I can order the delicacy from Quy Nhơn here again to serve my customers," Nghĩa said.
Minh Ha, of Quy Nhơn origin, who runs the Facebook page 'Quy Nhơn Delicacies in Ha Noi and Sai Gòn', said she sends the cake to Ha Noi as easily as usual.
"Whenever customers in Ha Noi order, I can send them within a week," she said. "In the past few days, only some buses received goods to HCM City, so I still can send goods to the city though it's not so easy as before." VNS
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