Five delectable Chinatown snacks
Phung Hung Market in Saigon’s District 5, regarded a ‘Chinese food heaven’, is famed for its sweet or salty cakes.
Chinese chive cakes are made from rice flour and served either flat and round or square. Traditionally, rice flour is mixed with warm water, then hand-kneaded until the dough reaches a soft, supple and smooth texture. Chives are cut, added to the dough and steamed together.
The final step involves deep-frying the cakes until crispy. Nowadays, alternative versions include radish or sliced cassava roots with a lean meat filling.
Some Chinese vendors sell fried chive cakes with eggs, pickled radish, garlic, and spring onions. These cakes are typically served with chili vinegar fish sauce and dab of grated papaya.
Often, beetroot is added to the mix for an attractive, bright-pink color. A cake costs VND5,000-10,000 ($0.22-0.43).
La lieu (willow leaf) cakes are a familiar snack of Chaozhou (a city in China’s Guangdong Province) people. The dumpling powder crust is typically filled with sticky rice, dried shrimp, meat, pickled radish and spring onions, very similar to a steamed, salty sticky rice dish.
The cake has a purple pink color and is considered a symbol of luck and longevity. Chaozhou people often include willow leaf cakes in their ceremonies.
A portion of a la lieu cake fried with an egg, pickled radish, spring onions and garlic costs VND35,000 ($1.52).
Chinese steamed buns are available in hot or cool varieties. Hot buns have three types of filling: cade, char siu, or salted egg. Buns are usually steamed, making the crust soft and fragrant.
Cade buns, served with a smooth and nutty filling, exude the fragrance of eggs and milk. Each bun costs from around VND10,000 ($0.43).
Cool buns are sweetened with green beans, coconut, taro, or cade. Each piece includes a red Chinese script stamp for luck.
Non-filling buns are made from wheat flour, sugar, steamed sweet potatoes; and are usually served with roasted pork.
Radish cakes are considered a lucky new year dish among Chaozhou people. The cake is made from sticky rice flour and white radish, shredded into fibers, drained of liquid, then stir-fried before mixing. Dried shrimp, shiitake mushrooms, five-flavor seasoning, or sausages could be added before steaming.
Standard cakes have a glossy surface, and smooth and soft texture. Deep-frying these cakes is another way to enjoy them.
Bot cakes (flour cakes) are served with sweet and sour fish sauce. They are typically made from rice flour without meat or wood ear. Cinnamon leaves and sprouting could help elevate these cakes.
The cakes are often sold as an afternoon snack. Each portion costs VND15,000 ($0.65).
Photos by Yen Nhi, Di Vy, Hoang Nhi and Ru Lu Chen.