Once again, the Vietnamese people chose to name this sweet treat after its look rather than its ingredients. Growing up in Southern Vietnam, my childhood revolved around strange-looking, strange taste, or strange name desserts. Despite their looks, tastes, or names, these desserts all have one thing in common, that is they are very tasty. I still remember the first time I heard of this cake, I thought it would be very weird since pig skin and cake are not something you put together. I do love eating pork skin but as a savory dish instead of a sweet dish. As my mom explained, I learned that Pig Skin Cake is named after its layered look. Each layer is about the same thickness as the thickness of the pig skin. The English name for Pig Skin Cake is Steamed Layer Cake. We just don’t use that name in Vietnam since Pig Skin Cake is more popular.
About the Pig Skin Cake, its origin is in Southern Vietnam, but no one really knows when it was first made nor who was the first to make this cake. In Vietnam, from North to South, people often make simple sweet treats out of the country’s agricultural products such as rice, root starch, bean, coconut, cane sugar, nuts, and fruits. Since these treats vary between regions, and they are often sold as street food or at local markets, no one could track their origins. All I know is that Pig Skin Cake is a staple dish of South Vietnam, and it is made of tapioca starch, rice flour, mung beans, pandan leaf extract, sugar, and coconut milk. Since its name is steamed layer cake, you probably got a sense of how it is made. This cake is made of multiple steamed layers of cake, and each layer has different ingredients and flavors.
In most cases, the Pig Skin Cake has two different flavors. One is mung bean flavor, and another one is pandan flavor. During the steaming process, we often start with pouring in a thin layer of the mung bean flavored cake mixture. After about three minutes, this layer is cooked and will be topped with the pandan flavored mixture. After another three minutes, the pandan mixture is cooked, and we pour in the mung bean mixture again. We keep repeating the same process until the cake is done, usually when the pan is full. To serve the Pig Skin Cake, we often cut it into wedges or squares depending on which type of pan we used. Since this cake is very subtly sweet and has a chewy texture, it is usually served at room temperature rather than hot. When the Pig Skin Cake is too hot, it is not as chewy as when it is cooled down.
In Vietnam, the Pig Skin Cake is the most common in family gatherings or parties. The most common type of gathering in Southern Vietnam is the death anniversary. On this day, the host family will invite a lot of people to join the gathering. The guests consist of family members as well as neighbors. Some families even invite more neighbors than family members since according to the Southern Vietnamese culture, sometimes the neighbors are even closer than family members. A typical death anniversary gathering in Vietnam often has at least fifty people gather and eat together. This number can be doubled or tripled in wealthier families. Sometimes, the people who come to someone’s death anniversary are co-workers or business partners who have been helping the host family in business or during a hard time, and the host family invites these people over to express their gratuity. Once everyone has finished the main courses, the Pig Skin Cake is served as dessert along with freshly brewed jasmine tea. Almost every dessert in Vietnam is accompanied by hot jasmine green tea.
Nowadays, people often make Pig Skin Cake in bite-size and sell them at Asian supermarkets. If you want to try this cake, check to see if your nearest Asian supermarket carries it. If you don’t live near an Asian supermarket, you can try making this cake yourself. The pandan leaf extract can be substituted by artificial pandan flavor.