To many families in southern Vietnam, enjoying pia during the mid-autumn holidays has been a tradition since the early 19th century. Pia is a rich cake eaten with tea that is a specialty of the Kinh, Khmer and Chinese ethnic people living in the Mekong Delta region.
The Chinese Ming Xiang people migrated to live by the Mekong Delta in the 14th century, bringing with them a round-shaped flat pudding filled with green pia powder.
It was called pia in Chinese which became pia in Vietnamese.
After hundreds of years, the original pia underwent adaptations to suit the tastes of the local people.
Since the early 19th century, it has been a specialty of the Mekong Delta Province of Soc Trang thanks to resident Dang Thuan who pioneered cooking and selling the puddings.
Initially, the Chinese-made pia had a surface layer made of wheat powder and was filled with a mixture of green pea powder and pork fat.
As a local variation, the Southerners incorporated one of their favorite fruits, the durian, to make a new filling when combined with dried egg yolk.
A third popular variation for the pia is to fill them with Indian taro.
The pia is also a very colorful delicacy, with an orange pink exterior, a yellow interior from the green pea powder and a red center from the color of the egg yolk.
It is not only Vietnam’s southern residents who speak highly of this treat.
WHERE TO BUY PIA:
■ An Dong Market: 34 An Duong Vuong St., Dist. 5, HCMC.
■ Tan Hue Vien Cake Shop: 140 Nguyen Trong Tuyen St., Tan Binh Dist., HCMC.
■ Hong Bong Cake Shop: 93 Nguyen Thong St., Dist. 3, HCMC.
Foreigners have also enjoyed and praised the savory dessert.
One such foreigner is Australian Michael Smith, who was so impressed by the cake’s unique flavor that he now seeks it out for breakfast.
“The smell and taste are strange but excellent,” Smith says.
At HCMC-based An Dong Market, Japanese and Korean tourists buy the cakes as gifts to take home to their families.
Nowadays, Soc Trang Province in the Mekong Delta has some 40 pia producers, most of which are located in Phu Tam Commune of My Tu District.
To buy pia, go to Highway 1A in Soc Trang where there are many shops selling the unique cake.
These shops manufacture and distribute pia around the country.
Ho Chi Minh City-based markets or supermarkets also offer this tasty pudding.
Packets of pia, which normally contain four cakes, are sold for between VND20,000-30,000 (US$1-2).