Chernobyl Cakes – 15 of 365

Pandan a/k/a Chernobyl Cakes

My Spanish friend Eloy has nicknamed the little snacks on our shorter flights “Chernobyl Cakes” due to their frightfully artificial green glow.   The catering slip in the galley tells us we have Pandan Coconut Cakes on board, and armed with this bit of information, I commenced some research into the intricacies of  Vietnamese snack cakes with my coworkers.  After some debate the flight attendants decided on bánh cốm as the proper Vietnamese translation for  Chernobyls, and these seven letters were the jackpot I needed to feed Google.  And just as with the mystery meat, a quick search of Google Images told me this may not be the most accurate word.   I am noticing a trend here…when I ask people what something is in Vietnamese, some rapid fire banter craps out a few opinions later short of any definitive answer.   I don’t know, show me a Little Debbie Snack Cake and I can most likely conclude it’s the Zebra Cake or Swiss Roll without all the debate.

In a perfect world, these light and fluffy creations popular across Southeast Asia are colored a natural green by the chlorophyll in the pandan leaves.   Steeping these same leaves in coconut milk further enhances the dessert’s taste enjoyment, and this really sounds like a recipe right up my alley.  But in my less than perfect world, pandan cake is a heavy dense sticky chunk whose green is some obvious food coloring enhancement.

I highly doubt a ready to bake mix for these little gutbombs lurks amongst the boxes of Duncan Hines back home.   No, this is a special mix only Vietnam could produce, and for this distinctness I am actually happy.   My food journey should wind down the path of all things Vietnamese and not necessarily items I can find in the US.  We can safely asseverate industrial grade junk snacks like Twinkies have nothing on these Chernobyl Cakes.   Actually, upon further inspection, Chernobyls share Twinkie’s texture but the heft of its shelfmate, the Hostess Fried Pie.   But instead of a hermetically sealed bright yellow loaf filled with artificial cream, Twinkie’s Asian cousin is a plastic wrapped neon green square glazed with some sticky gel hinting of lime.

I ate two Chernobyls today.   I can’t say these are my favorite tasting cakes out there, but in the end I will take the combination of coconut and tart over the artificial crappiness of a chocolate Ding Dong.

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Categories: Vietnamese Food

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