What could possibly follow – and even complement – a bowl of pho? What about a plate of mung bean pastries (banh dau xanh), or a few dollops of black sesame soup?
Everything we so love about savoury Vietnamese dishes – balanced, delicate flavours and textures all working harmoniously – thankfully carries right on through to dessert.
Everything we so love about savoury Vietnamese dishes – balanced, delicate flavours and textures all working harmoniously – thankfully carries right on through to dessert. Much like in other Asian cuisines, sweet-dish heroes include glutinous rice, sago and mung beans, while gluten and dairy feature sparingly. It’s great news for anyone into lighter, no-bake desserts, and smooth, jelly-like mouth feels.
From the many varieties of chè (a word used to describe a sweet beverage) to delightfully chewy glutinous rice dumplings, peruse some of our favourite sweets hailing from Vietnam.
This sweet, pudding-like beverage usually incorporates fruit, vegetables, beans, seeds, glutinous rice, tapioca powder and coconut milk, but that’s where the rule bookends.
Chè is endlessly adaptable: one version, chè chuối, is almost the Vietnamese answer to the banana split, using the chuối xiêm banana, coconut milk and sago pearls; another is known widely as the ‘three colour dessert’, made with coloured beans, jelly and sweetened coconut milk. Even a serious chè addict might struggle to sample them all.
2. Rau câu dừa
Easy to make and even easier to eat (by the plateful, obviously), coconut jelly is the antidote to that too-full feeling on a summer’s day. Hot tip: don’t even wait ’till lunch is over – coconut jelly goes well as breakfast or a refreshing snack throughout the day.
Fancy making your own? Try this recipe.
3. Tàu hũ nước đường
We’re not sure what the real star of this pudding is: the silken tofu that miraculously doesn’t fall apart or the spicy ginger syrup that’s poured over the top? In this instance, you can’t have one without the other.
4. Bánh trung thu
Bánh trung thu, or Vietnamese mooncakes, are ubiquitous all year round but are particularly popular during the mid-autumnal festival season (roughly late September to early October).
Bite through the crispy pastry into the sweet, dense filling, usually made with shredded coconut, sunflower and sesame seeds, and mung beans. Salted egg yolks inside represent the full moon.
5. Banh tieu
These hollow ‘doughnuts’ are a rare example of deep-fried Vietnamese sweets, made with yeasty dough and dusted with nutty, crunchy sesame seeds. Banh tieu perfectly encapsulates the balance inherent to Vietnamese cuisine – they’re sweet enough to be considered a treat but savoury enough to eat plenty and not feel guilty. Best served piping hot, drizzled with sweetened condensed milk; best eaten by the bag-full.
6. Kem cà phê
Average coffee gelato, this is not. Sweetened condensed milk, crushed cardamom pods and cinnamon set Vietnamese coffee ice cream apart. Here, earthy coffee flavour notes are offset by the characteristic sweetness of Vietnamese iced coffee.
7. Bánh bò nướng
Bánh bò nướng, a chewy coconut cake sometimes referred to as honeycomb cake in English, hails from southern Vietnam, where fertile soil produces more palm sugar, coconut and tropical fruit trees than in the north. A brilliant green hue makes bánh bò nướng instantly recognisable, while flavours of coconut and pandan come together for a distinctly tropical version of a western tea cake.
Sago pudding is a very traditional dessert and you need to ensure the sago pearls are cooked properly so that they're lovely, bouncy and translucent. Here they're infused in jasmine tea and combined with stewed rhubarb. The Chefs' Line