On my way to the Argyle El stop this morning, I stopped at Hong Xuong Bakery on Argyle for another perspective on che. I chose black eyed pea or Che Dau for todays trial. I think I may have found my favorite, there are about ten varieties to try, but the nice lady at the counter insisted I try the taro root version tomorrow. Previously I have tried sweety corn [sic], which is actually a bit like hominy rather than sweet corn. I have also tried Che Thai which is cloyingly sweet. Most of the che have some element of unctuous coconut milk.
Che are the ubiquitous sweet desserts sold all over southern Vietnam, but rarely found in the north. Normally, che consist of various combinations of tapioca, beans, sweetened coconut milk, fresh fruit and sugar. Che is a distinctly Vietnamese sweet, a cross between a pudding and a drink, although it most likely has its roots in Chinese dessert soups. Sometimes served in a bowl like a cold soup, it can also be layered in tall glasses for maximum technicolor effect.
Che is based on a myriad of sweet liquids. Depending on region and personal taste, it might be made with thick coconut milk, thin ginger tea, or sweet red bean soup. At Hong Xuong, in the sliding door cooler, you will see shelves of che on display, chilled behind glass. Some of these are set quite firm like a pudding. They are fairly inexpensive, so you can try two or three or maybe even all twelve without going out on a limb. I believe you can ask for a custom made Che at Hong Xoung or, if not there then, elsewhere on Agryle. The fun, then, is in what you want added to your glass. Just a few of the stir-ins you can choose from: lotus seeds, seaweed strips, corn (each kernel sliced thinly into paper-thin rounds!), dried longans, agar-agar confetti, tapioca, lychee, or basil seeds.
>>>>>Foodwriter Thy Tran from San Francisco at her website www.wanderingspoon.com writes "the Vietnamese enjoy sweet bean soups as snacks. The whole class is known as che, but they each have a specific name that usually reveals the color of the bean: che dau den (black bean), che dau trang ("white bean," or what we know here as black-eyed peas), even che dau xanh ("green beans," referring to the green covering on mung beans). Coconut milk, lotus seeds, taro root, tapioca, even crunchy seaweed are common additions. Western Vietnamese restaurants sometimes offer them as dessert, but they're really meant for snacking, which South East Asians love to do. You can serve che warm or chilled."
Thy adds, "Interestingly, the idea of using beans in savory dishes (other than sprouts) is not as natural for most Vietnamese people. Just like when I told my family, while sipping artichoke tea in Saigon, that in the States we serve the whole vegetable as a delicacy, they were horrified." <<<<<
Quite frankly, on the train ride in this morning I began thinking about how wholesome and nutritious this snack is compared to our typical snacks. Legumes have quite a bit of protein and fiber, the sugar and the fat laden coconut milk are a bit over the top in some varieties, but, on the whole, probably not a bad dish to add to substantial snacking. Che certainly beats out refined flour and sugar with who knows what else in our typical snack. I say Viva la Che.
Hong Xuong Bakery
1139 West Argyle