Banh Xu Xe
Oaktree Market, $1.99/4
I try not to poke fresh produce, but since squishy treats won't bruise, I prod the little darlings with impunity until I find the tenderest batch on offer. Although I gave these banh xu xe a thorough once-over, the texture was a big disappointment. The padanus-tinted tapioca flour exterior was unpleasantly rubbery--just on the edible side of chewing on a fishing lure. Since another on-line review described banh xu xe as "jelly-like" (and "amazing" and "addictive"), I'm willing to belive that my experience wasn't typical. More likely the trip from Mai's Bakery in Montery Park, CA to the Oaktree Grocery in Seattle, WA didn't do the texture any favors. The paste inside was a tasty blend of mung bean, coconut and vanilla; I managed to think of the green part as just a disposable wrapper.
Banh xu xe appears to be a close relative of banh phu the, a sweet with very particular role in tradtional Vietnamese culture. Because the cakes' sticky texture is considered to symbolize the tenacious bonds of marriage, banh phu the can be given as part of a marriage proposal, distributed to announce an engagement, exchanged by new in-laws, or served at a wedding. The name refers to a tiny origami box folded from fresh coconut leaves for each cake; ideally, the box, lid, and cake should be a perfect fit.
Vietnam-beauty.com has a recipe for a cake that looks almost exactly like my banh xu xe, but calls for entirely different ingredients. Hmm...