Despite coming from the rural areas, sweet potatoes are still be used as a crucial ingredient of the greasy and sugary cakes which can be too hard to ignore in the tasty food list of Hanoi.
Since a long time ago, sweet potato cakes have become the familiar gifts every time the winter comes back. Those homeland gifts are like a distinguishing feature to recall about the thousand-year-old sacred capital of Vietnam.
Every time when passing Lang street, not many people can resist the scent coming from the sweet potato cakes sold by the street vendors. And even the selling places also reflect the rural origin of these cakes, that is, a small area with a coal oven, a pan of oil, a basin of flour and some plastic chairs. Vendors often choose the pavements which are spacious and near the road so that they can attract many customers and offer them more convenience to drop in and buy cakes.
The lady vendor enthusiastically invites the customers to buy cakes, while using one hand to turn over the cakes in a small pan of oil and the other hand to hurriedly wrap the well-cooked cakes in the nylon bag for the customers.
Her homeland is Bac Giang, but she moved to Hanoi to find a job because she did not have own land to grow rice. Seeing that lots of people wanted to eat sweet potato cakes but could not find those cakes easily, she decided to use her cheap homeland source of sweet potatoes as the ingredients for this kind of cakes. And this job has become the main income of her family for about 10 years.
The chosen are the white-fleshed variety of sweet potatoes, which are largely grown near the dike in the suburbs of Hanoi. This kind is very crumbly, but when we cut it into slices fry it, it turns out to be sweet and crispy.
If the sellers choose the red-fleshed one, the sophisticated customers can recognize that because this kind is so soft that it is difficult to make the cakes crispy. Wheat flour is used to make cakes and mixed with gac fruit flour to make the cakes more inviting. We should not put to much sugar into the flour mixture because that may cause the customers to be fed up with the dish.
It is a good idea to sit on the Hanoi pavement in the early winter, look at the busy street and enjoy the hot yellow cakes. The piece of crispy cake with fat from the oil absorbed into the flour and the sweet scent of homeland potatoes with homemade sauce are so delicious that I can hardly resist them when I go home after work and pass Lang street every afternoon.
Today, sweet potato cakes are sold a lot in Hanoi, from the regions crowded with students to the areas in front of the luxurious hotels. Many foreign tourists feel both curious and excited about this “odd” kind of cake.
Originated from the countryside but sweet potato cakes are not common in the food list of that land. Perhaps only the capital with the convergence of many different cultures can have a rich cuisine culture like that. When leaving Hanoi, people do not only remember the passionate scent of milk flowers in the fall, the face of West Lake in the dew, but also the hot sweet potato cakes in the chilly air of winter in the capital.