While the origin of the name ‘xeo’ remains a topic of dispute, all agree that ‘xoi xeo’ is the most complicated sticky rice dish to prepare. Anyone who has a chance to try knows immediately what it’s made of because it’s served right before them: yellow sticky rice, a salty powder and fried onion. Dyed yellow with turmeric, the rice is then left to dry, mixed with salt and steamed. The yellow powder that helps alleviate the stickyness and absorb the fat is actually steamed green beans ground to a pulp and shaped into ball, ready to be sliced and spread all over the pile of sticky rice.
‘Xoi xeo’, stuffed in a small bowl, upended onto a lotus leaf, covered in ground beans, topped up with fried onions and finished with liquid fat, makes it the go-to breakfast for lots of people. Hanoi itself boasts several villages that specialize in making ‘xoi xeo’, helping prepare people for a long day ahead.
Satisfying enough when eaten alone, ‘xoi xeo’ has become a specialty after being combined with boiled chicken by the famous “Xoi Yen” restaurant on Nguyen Huu Huan Street.
‘Xoi ngo’ (sticky rice with corn), or ‘xoi lua’ (“rice” sticky rice) and ‘ngo bung’ (burst corn), is another sticky choice of breakfast for Hanoians.
Based on the famous sticky rice recipe, ‘xoi ngo’ diversifies itself through the addition of burst corn. ‘Xoi ngo’ shares the same toppings with its brother ‘xoi xeo’.
The boiled corn changes the texture from the already diverse ‘xoi xeo’. ‘Xoi ngo’, together with ‘xoi xeo’ and a few other kinds of ‘xoi’, offer customers a wide range of choices and can be found at every market or corner in Hanoi.
‘Banh khuc’ is a special variety of ‘xoi’, but less than half the dish is made of sticky rice. The rest reminds us of the ingredients used in ‘banh chung’, with ground beans, pepper and pork as the stuffing. However, while the traditional ‘banh chung’ is usually served cold, ‘banh khuc’ is kept warm and served hot, adding to the spiciness of the pepper and the aroma of the fat wrapped in the double blankets of beans and sticky rice.
What sets the ‘banh khuc’ apart is the use of a ‘khuc’ leaf wrapper that creates a distinctive scent instead of the green from the more commonly used ‘dong’ leaf.
Sold mostly by mobile vendors both day and night, 'banh khuc’ is the only 'xoi' that is most popular at night in Hanoi, giving night-owls something to fend away hunger in the small hours.