Legends
Myths
Narrative

Legend of the Rice Cakes

There once was a King with three sons.  He was about to die so his dying wish was to have one of his sons succeed the throne after him.  However, he couldn’t decide which son to choose, although they all wanted it.  Since he enjoyed food, he said to his sons, “Whoever brings me the tastiest food he made from Vietnamese ingredients will become king after me.”  So the sons set off around the world to find the best food.  One son traveled to the mountains to bring back boar meat.  The second son brought back the tastiest fish from the South Sea.  The third thought long and hard about what he should bring to his father.  On the final day, he brought two simple rice cakes, which looked very plain when compared to the expensive dishes his two brothers had brought.  When the king asked the youngest son to explain why he had brought such simple dishes, the son explained that rice is the most valuable food in Vietnam, although it is very abundant.  The round rice cake represented the sky under which all the Vietnamese lived, while the square rice cake was stuff with beans and pork to represent the Earth that they live on (back then they still believed that the Earth was square). Each rice cake was made to represent the love that the son had for the King as well as Vietnam.”  After everyone heard this explanation, they knew that the youngest son would be the next king, and they all bowed down to him.

The informant first heard this story when he was a teenager, although he doesn’t remember who told it to him.  It was during the Lunar New Year (Tet) season because the Banh Chung and Banh Day (square and round rice cakes) are traditionally made and eaten during this time of the year.  During this time, families make Banh Chung and Banh Day and travel to their relatives’ houses, giving these cakes as a gift of love and caring for one another.

The feeling of receiving these rice cakes is a feeling of love and belonging to a group of people who care for you.  Because of this, the Vietnamese people have carried this tradition across the Pacific Ocean to America and still do this during the New Year season, maintaining the Vietnamese traditions and unity of the people.  The story continues to be passed on by those who know it, generally those who are adults and can remember the story and the significance of it are the ones who pass it down to the younger generation who in turn cherish it and will later pass it down.  I think this legend, real or fake, is a good explanation of Vietnamese unity and loving spirit.

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