The second and third months of the lunar year are the time for gourmet cooks to order banh trung kien, or ant’s egg cakes, a Cao Bang specialty.
In addition to banh ngai (wormwood cake) and banh san (cassava cake), merchants in the mountainous areas of Cao Bang and Bac Kan are also offering ant’s egg cakes online. The products are selling like hotcakes as they are the specialty of Cao Bang, available only at this time of the year.
Thuy, a petty merchant in Hoang Mai district in Hanoi, who sells ant’s egg cake on her Facebook page, said she can sell 300 cakes a day. The cakes are made by her parents and siblings in Cao Bang and carried to Hanoi for sale.
“The cakes are very delicious as they have the typical taste of Cao Bang,” she said, adding that though the demand is high, the cakes are not available year round.
The special cake, made of ant’s eggs, is the product of Tay ethnic minority people in Cao Bang and Bac Kan. They can only be made from early April to the end of May, or the second and third months of the lunar year. This is the time of black forest ants’ reproduction.
The cakes are made of glutinous rice, filled with ant’s eggs and wrapped with young leaves of fig trees. The cakes are made only with black ant eggs because they are nutritious, fatty and tasty.
The recipe is simple. Ant’s eggs, white and as big as a grain of rice, are taken from forests, cleaned, and fried with dry onion.
“Some people use minced pork, crushed roasted peanuts and kieu (Allium chinese) leaves, mix with ant’s eggs for stuffing. But our cakes don’t have pork or other materials. They only have ant’s eggs and kieu leaves, which is the traditional Cao Bang flavor,” Thuy said.
The cake crust is made of glutinous rice flour. After preparation, the cakes are steamed for 45-50 minutes.
If cakes have two layers of leaves, people peel the outer layer. If cakes only have one layer, they can eat the leaves as well. They need to be preserved in refrigerators and steamed for several minutes before eating.
This cake can be eaten hot or cold depending on individual taste.
Thuy sells five cakes at VND60,000. The buyers are mostly city residents who seek food with an unusual taste.
Corn cake is quite popular among the H'mong people in Tuyen Quang Province.
Banh duc is a dish that’s common in all three regions of Vietnam. It originated from the countryside and is inexpensive so literally everyone can afford.