(No.8, Vol.6,Oct-Nov 2016 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)
Spousal cakes typically seen at weddings. Photo: Nguyen Ba Ngoc
Spousal cake. Photo: Internet
Elders of Dinh Bang village, Bac Ninh say that long ago, when King Ly Anh Tong went out to fight foreign invaders, the Queen herself made some cakes to send to the front line to show Her affection for Him. Moved by the Queen’s gesture, and enjoying the especially attractive taste of the delicacy, the King named them the spousal cakes to honor family love and loyalty, and they became popular among the folks ever since.
With decades of experience in cake making, my grandma always reminds us, ‘To make good spousal cakes, you have to put your heart into it.’ Indeed, when it came to spousal cakes, she paid utmost attention to even the smallest detail. She said the most important thing was the flour. Glutinous rice of the best quality was carefully cleansed, dried, and ground, then filtered to make a fine starch, which was then dried in the sun. The flour became so light it was almost airborne.
My grandma sifted grean peas, soaked overnight, to dehusk them. Then she steamed the well and ground them finely. Sugar was fried into a light brown glue and mixed well with the green pea starch. Grandma added dried papaya to create the feel of jelly, and some dried coconut fibers and fried black sesame for additional flavor.
Some gardenia flowers, which she took from the tree by the family’s pond, dried and kept in a jar, were now taken out and boiled. This tea was mixed with the fine flour she made to create the glamorous yellowish opaque colour and the incredibly elegant flavour of the cakes’ outer layer. After being steamed, the cakes were wrapped in lushly green phrynium or banana leaves and cross-tied with baboo strips dyed in red.
The cake’s look, feel and taste combine to bring a tender peace to the senses. Crossing red bamboo strips, green wrapping and shining opaque flesh over yellow stuffing, with dots of sesame and white thin stripes of coconut make an innocent symbol of coquette. The soft, jelly-like skin covering a sweet buttery yellow substance, made crispy by the sesame and coconut, fulfills the promise of spousal happiness. It makes one feel the melodies and colors of the top angle of the Red River’s triangular delta.
Spousal cakes always come in pairs. How can they do otherwise? The lushness of the green wrapping represents the happiness of love. The crossing red strips symbolize the vow of commitment, and the person entitled to unwrap the cake can see through into the heart of the unwrapped one.
* The article in Vietnamese was printed on www.danviet.vn