Banana in Vietnamese cuisine
The banana tree is a popular plant to the Vietnamese and it has many benefits in life. Banana (fruit) is a precious food for humans of all ages. Banana blossoms and young banana stalks are also good vegetables. Banana tubers are also used in cooking. Banana leaves are used to wrap various Vietnamese dumpling cakes. Some banana seeds are also used in traditional medicine.
SPECIES & CULTIVARS
In Vietnam, there are three main groups:
- Musa acuminata or Cavendish banana (Vietnamese: chuối tiêu)
- Musa balbisiana (Vietnamese: chối hột)
- Musa acuminata × Musa balbisiana Musa ‘Pisang Awak’ (Vietnamese: chuối sứ, chuối xiêm or chuối tây)
There are various of banana cultivars in Vietnam.
1. Common Cavendish banana (chuối tiêu)
Cavendish banana is very popular. There are two types of Cavendish banana: short or dwarf Cavendish banana and tall one. A bunch of Cavendish banana usually has about 12 fruits. Cavendish banana has a curved shape like a sickle, and unripe one is dark green and turns yellow when ripe. Its flesh is bright yellow, very fragrant and sweet. The export variety is called chuối tiêu hồng in Vietnamese.
Ripe Cavendish bananas can be eaten as is or used to make banana smoothie, banana ice cream, banana cake, banana pickled yogurt … and many other desserts. Green ones can be sliced and used a raw vegetables or cooked in various Vietnamese braise dish with aquatic food like fish, eel…
2. “Royal” banana or “king” banana (chuối ngự)
The banana cultivar has its nickname because it was once planted to offer to Vietnamese kings (and their royal families). Royal bananas are small, thin skinned, fragrant and sweet. Probably, Vietnamese royal bananas are the same as Lady Finger bananas (also known as sugar bananas, fig bananas, or date bananas). Royal bananas are known for being much sweeter than the common Cavendish-type bananas, and are eaten as snacks or desserts.
Best known royal banana brand in Vietnam is Chuối ngự Đại Hoàng, which is a delicacy banana Hà Nam province.
3. “Arecanut” banana (chuối cau)
Arecanut bananas look similar to “Royal” bananas, and got their name because they are small (as arecanuts). Compared to royal bananas, arecanut bananas have smoother skin, rounder fruits, and often have no antennae pistil at the tips. Arecanut bananas are less sweet than royal ones.
4. Awak banana (chuối sứ, chuối xiêm, chuối tây)
In Vietnamese, this cultivar is known as chuối sứ (“envoy banana”) or chuối xiêm (“Siamese banana”), probably it was introduced to Vietnam from Thailand. Awak or Pisang Awak bananas can be eaten like other bananas but they have some mild astringent taste. Usually, green bananas are used as vegetable in various Vietnamese braise dishes, and some grill dishes.
The banana blossoms have some similar astringent taste to the green bananas, and are used in various Vietnamese salad dished, some noodle dishes like Bún bò Huế or Bún riêu and also used as hotpot vegetable.
5. Seeded banana or astringent banana (chuối hột, chuối chát)
This banana cultivar belongs to the species Musa balbisiana, also known as plantain. As the name suggests, they have seeds and astringent taste. Ripe seeded bananas or sometimes only the seeds are often used to submerge into (rice) wine to make “seeded banana wine” (to be consumed as an aphrodisiac food). Also, the seeds are used for some traditional medicine purposes . Green seeded bananas are used as vegetable similar to the aforementioned Pisang Awak bananas. The banana blossoms of this cultivar are also used as vegetable.
6. “Bơm” banana (chuối bơm)
This banana cultivar name is probably linked to its origin place called Trảng Bom, a district in a southern province of Đồng Nai. This banana is small in size, quite similar to some above-mentioned bananas, but has high yield. The tree will bear fruits in about 4 months. The ripe fruits are eaten as snacks or desserts, but mostly, they are seasoned with ginger and sesame seeds and get dried.
7. Laba Banana (Chuối laba)
This banana cultivar is named after a village in Lâm Hà district, near Dalat city. They look similar to common Cavendish bananas, but the texture is rather springy or elastic. Laba bananas are sweet and fragrant.
8. Tá Quạ giant banana (chuối Tá Quạ)
These giant bananas is very unique, they are big in size, about 35-40 cm (14-16 inch) in length, and from 0.5 kg to more than 1 kg in weight. That size is often compared to a human wrist. There are only about 2-3 bunches in one banana main stem, and there are only a few bananas in one bunch. Tá Quạ bananas are rather waxy, so they are cooked in curry dishes, or in Vietnamese “giả cầy” braise dish. Also, the giant bananas are simply cooked by boiling in water. This unique banana cultivar is considered as a delicacy food in Trà Vinh province, and some nearby provinces. Its name is probably a shortened version of an old local idiom (Tá hỏa tam tinh) referring to the eerie sound of the banana tree when it bears heavy fruits.
NOTABLE VIETNAMESE BANANA DISHES
Some notable Vietnamese dishes with banana as the main ingredient includes:
This ice cream is a childhood decilicacy of Vietnamese culinary devotees from all over the country. In the past, this dish was so popular that it can be found in every small grocery store. The simplest version of this ice-cream are just frozen crushed bananas. Nowadays, banana icecreams are crusted with crushed peanuts and coconut flesh with some coconut milk.
2. Fried Bananas
Fried bananas are eaten as snacks that everyone loves. You can find this dish everywhere, from traditional markets to street vendors on the streets of big cities like Saigon, Hanoi, … The best banana for frying is chuối sứ or Pisang Awok banana. Fried bananas are often sprinkled with sesame seeds. Some modern Vietnamese chefs also coat the banana with young rice (Vietnamese: cốm) before crispy-frying.
3. Roasted Banana in Glutinous Rice
This southern Vietnamese street food dish is called chuối nếp nướng in Vietnamese, and now gains the the love of snack enthusiasts everywhere, especially on cold days. The ingredients for this banana snack are simple and easy to find, you just need ripe bananas, fragrant glutinous rice, coconut milk and some roasted peanuts. Bananas are wrapped in cooked sticky rice then get baked or roasted on a grill.
4. Steamed banana cake
Another banana snack from southern Vietnamese cuisine (called bánh chuối hấp in Vietnamese). Steamed banana cake is not difficult to make. The ingredients include only chuối sứ or Pisang Awok banana, rice flour, tapioca starch, a little shredded coconut, sugar, salt, vanilla and the indispensable coconut milk. Bananas are cut into bite-sized pieces, then tossed with other ingredients before getting steamed. The final outcome is a pizza-like cake.
5. Banana sweet soup
Southern Vietnamese cuisine has many delicious sweet soup dishes (Vietnamese: chè), including this attractive delicious banana version. You may need ripe bananas, sugar, coconut milk, peanuts and arenga starch pearls (from Arenga pinnata, Vietnamese: bột báng).