Sesame balls – A Food Toy

Sesame balls, ‘bánh lúc lắc’ in the North of Vietnam or ‘bánh cam’ in the South, are a type of fried Asian crispy pastry made from glutinous rice flour, filled with bean paste and coated with sesame seeds.

In Vietnam, the image of sesame balls is often attached to the image of a little boy sitting on the porch of the house, singing songs and waiting for the return of his grandmother from the market. When she goes back, she does not forget to give him some snacks like cakes, candies, and sesame balls.

Sesame balls went to his childhood and other Vietnameses in that way. The pastry is nothing luxurious and can be found in almost every area of Vietnam in any season of the year. When the cold season approaches, sitting next to the heater and enjoying the crispy and sweet sesame balls would be so wonderful. When you take the cake and shake it slightly, you can hear the movement of the bean filling inside. That is the reason why sesame balls are sometimes considered as a toy!

A man selling sesame balls in Saigon (Photo: aFamily)

How To Make Sesame Balls

Fried sesame balls are made from local ingredients such as first-class glutinous rice, mung beans, sugar and white sesame seeds.

First of all, glutinous rice flour and rice flour are mixed together. Boil water with sugar and then slowly pour into the mixture while carefully kneading it to create dough. Wait for an hour so that the dough can absorb water and become thicken. After that, shape it into round balls.

Photo: Doi song va Phap Luat

 

As for the filling, mung beans are washed and soaked for several hours. Then they are steamed up, finely sliced and mixed with sugar and cooking oil to produce a smooth mixture. After that, the filling is divided into small round balls. When putting the filling into the crust, it is important to make sure that the cake is round and not distorted. Next, the cake will be soaked in white sesame seeds and then placed in a tray before being fried.

Photo: Doi song va Phap Luat
Photo: Doi song va Phap Luat

Put the pan on the stove, pour a lot of oil and wait until it is boiled then drop the sesame balls into the pan. Try to roll the balls constantly to prevent the filling from sticking onto the crust. This step is completed when the balls are in golden brown.

 

Photo: Doi song va Phap Luat

Enjoy!

A perfect sesame ball is brownish yellow, bulging and not flattened when cooled. The crust should be thin and fragile, the stuffing is rounded and not sticky to the covering. Holding the ball and shake it lightly, we can feel the filling rolling inside.

Photo: Doi song va Phap Luat

 

Recommended places to enjoy sesame balls:

Banner photo source: bepgiadinh.com

Vietnamese Swiftlet’s Nest

Swiftlet’s nest or edible bird’s nest is the name of a famous food and traditional medicine, which is  made of bird nest. This is a fine dish in East Asian countries, such as Japan, Korea, China, Vietnam and many other countries. In Vietnam, the dish is ranked in the eight most prestigious dishes. Swiftlet’s nest soup is dubbed ‘The caviar of the East’. It is one of the most expensive dishes made from animals.

I/ What is Swiftlet’s Nest?

Swiftlet’s Nest (Photo: wokoti)

In the breeding season, birds build their nest to lay eggs. Normally birds make nests with straws, dried plants, leaves or grass, but Swiftlets make their nests with their own saliva. Bird nests are built during the breeding season by male for 35 days. The nest has a shape of a bowl, which is attached to a cave. It consists of several threads of the bird’s solidified saliva braided together.

The nests are found on cliffs or caves where the birds live. The harvested nests include the white birds’ nests (Aerodramus fuciphagus) and the black birds’ nests (Aerodramus maximus), but the white birds’ nests are the most popular and widely known. Due to the dangerous nature and limited number of islands that can be exploited, this type of bird’s nest is among the highest price compared to other types of bird’s nest on the market. White and pinky red nests are said to be richer in flavors and more nutritious.

II/ Classification of  Swiftlet’s Nest

1/Red swiftlet’s nest

Red Swiftlet’s Nest. (Photo: khanhhoayen.com)

This is a type of nests with bright red color and is the most expensive type of edible birds’ nests because of its rarity and high demand. Not all producers have this type of nests. Red nests can only be harvested 1-2 times a year in a very small  number. The number of red nests accounts for less than 10% of the total production of edible birds’ nests on the world market. People believe that the red color of the nest is the result of the birds not having enough saliva, so they have to mix their own blood to build their nest.

2/Pink swiftlet’s nest

It is similar to the red nest in terms of price and scarcity. The nest is orange, but the color can vary from pantone tangerine to lemon. The darker the color, the higher the price.

3/White swiftlet’s nest

White Swiftlet’s Nest (Photo: Dinh Duong Online)

White nests are the most popular nests in the market. They can be harvested 3-4 times annually. The number of white nest accounts for about 90% of the total number of edible birds’ nests in the world market.

III/ Effects On Human Health

There are many debates about the effects of the edible bird’s nest on health.

In some materials provided by the birds’ nests distributors, the nests have many rare nutrients, including many proteins and amino acids. In addition, they contain minerals, such as calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium. Some other documents state that the nests are able to help with the lungs, strengthen the immune system, accelerate the process of cell regeneration, and help patients recover quickly. It is also used in research for combating against HIV due to its ability to stimulate white blood cells for antibody. According to some ancient documents, the swiftlets’ nests were often served in royal feasts.

On the contrary, some other documents denied the effects of the nests, even condemned the use of them and said that the price of the nests were pushed up because of its scarcity as well as the misperception of consumers. With the fact that the nests are made of the saliva of swiftlets, many people believe that the essence of the nest does not have any significant nutritional value and may even contain some harmful microorganisms. In addition, animal researchers believe that the consumption of the nests is the main reason for the decline in the number of swiftlets.

IV/ Some Notes on Use

Bird’s Nest Soup (Photo: khanhhoayen.com)

Pregnant women under 3 months and newborn babies under 7 months should not use bird’s nest. When using for babies, try slowly because it can cause allergies. People with blood disorders, such as diabetic patients, should not use it.

The nests should be cooked at a moderate temperature, not to be boiled above 100 degrees Celcius. Normally, the nests are steamed rather than directly cooked. Do not put in too much sugar as it will greatly reduce the positive effects of the nests.

V/ Where to Find Swiftlet’s Nest in Vietnam

In Vietnam, natural swiftlets’ nests can be found in some islands in many southern central provinces, such as Phu Yen or Khanh Hoa. The exploitation of swiftlets’ nests is very dangerous due to the high bamboo scaffolding, rudimentary tools and rugged cliffs. Recently, some places have raised swiftlets in their houses in the city to harvest bird’s nests, especially in Nha Trang City. The farms are designed to be close to the natural conditions where the birds live. Visitors can enjoy the traditional birds’ nests dishes in luxury restaurants in Nha Trang city.

Khanh Hoa City (Nha Trang) (Photo: APT Travel)

 

Son Nguyen

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