Phap Lam Cake
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Nowadays, "Bánh Ngũ Sắc" is also referred to as "Bánh Pháp lam Huế" due to its colorful exterior, utilizing a five-color system representing the five elements.
During the Tet festival, besides the vibrant branches of peach blossoms and apricot blossoms, as well as traditional delicacies like square sticky rice cake (bánh chưng), cylindrical glutinous rice cake (bánh tét), and assorted candied fruits, one cannot overlook a distinctive cake from our Hue homeland – the "Bánh Ngũ Sắc" (also known as "bánh bó" or "bánh cộ"). It is used for worship and entertaining guests during the festive days.
Nowadays, "Bánh Ngũ Sắc" is also referred to as "Bánh Pháp lam Huế" due to its colorful exterior, utilizing a five-color system representing the five elements.


The term "pháp lam"

According to Dr. Tran Duc Anh Son, from a functional perspective, "pháp lam" is an architectural material primarily made of copper, with multiple layers of colorful enamel coating on the exterior. Its ability to withstand external impacts over time makes it an effective material for creating decorative architectural elements such as sculptures on the tops and roofs of palaces, forming flat decorative panels with intricate patterns. It is often affixed to the edges of roofs and eaves in palaces, on ceremonial platforms within the imperial citadel, and on the tombs of Nguyen Dynasty emperors in Hue.

From an artistic standpoint, "pháp lam" encompasses a variety of art pieces with diverse shapes, vibrant colors, and rich and lively decorative themes. Household items, personal belongings, and decorative objects adorned with "pháp lam" within palaces and tombs are considered valuable artifacts left by the Nguyen Dynasty for posterity.

The term "pháp lam" is derived from the French word "France" (pháp lang). According to the painter Pham Dang Tri, it is an art of decoration. In China, it existed as a handicraft from the 14th to the 19th century, and in Vietnam, it was prevalent during the Nguyen Dynasty.

In summary, "pháp lam" refers to the art of enamel decoration on copper to embellish both architectural elements in the Nguyen Dynasty's imperial courts and essential items such as bowls, plates, and ancient vases.

Exploring "Pháp Lam" Cakes

In Hue, Vietnam, a recent trend has emerged involving individuals attempting to elevate a traditional cake, known as "bánh bó mứt," to a more sophisticated level by giving it the name "pháp lam" with a touch of "royalty." Some people use molds designed for other cakes, such as "bánh gối" (pillow cake) or "bánh ngũ sắc" (multicolored cake), and even incorporate "bánh phục linh" into a cube-shaped mold, labeling it as "Bánh pháp lam."

The essence of the story lies in the attempt to introduce a well-defined cake from daily life in Hue into a mold that already has its name, creating a new cake with a sophisticated name – "bánh pháp lam." It is noteworthy that the traditional "bánh bó mứt" is considered a common and ordinary cake in Hue, not typically associated with the grand feasts of the Nguyen Dynasty.

The recipe for "bánh bó mứt," according to Mrs. Hoang Thi Kim Cuc's menu, includes a cup of soft candied fruits (orange, lime, tomato, ginger, quince...), a cup of roasted glutinous rice flour, half a cup of sugar, and half a cup of cold water. The sugar and cold water are boiled in a pot until boiling, and the pre-soaked candied fruits are added, evenly sliced into the boiling syrup, mixed well before adding the flour, and gradually sprinkled and stirred until thickened. The mixture is then placed on a board covered with a layer of glutinous rice flour, and the cake is molded into a square and elongated shape, cooled, sliced at a thickness of 1c

Route Guide:

The location for experiencing the making of Phap Lam cakes is Mạ’ House, situated at 136 Bao Vinh, Hương Vinh, Hue City.

Experience Guide:

This type of cake, originating from the royal court, demands meticulous attention, starting from the kneading of the dough to the selection of various candied fruits. Particularly important is the art of arranging the box using six puzzle pieces, each in a different color, ensuring harmony, symmetry, and aesthetic appeal.

Assorted jams for making cakes, add more or less according to customer's taste

Jams must be mixed on the stove to make the cake clear

Glutinous flour is added little by little to make the cake even

Cut thick or thin depending on your preference

The cake box is made up of 6 small pieces

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