Posted by: sharemore1 | February 1, 2012

Savory Pizza and Sticky Rice Balls


Relaxing after a Math Final

We’d wanted a repeat performance ever since Moshe’s math students swooped in and organized a party in our apartment in September (see Cooking Dinner for 19, 9/27/11).  Our wish came true twice in January.

The first time we insisted on providing the food, but the students wanted to cook.  So we compromised.  We ordered a Vietnamese version of American-style pizza and they showed us how to make banh troi, sticky rice balls.  I served hot mulled cider, something they’d never tried.

Twenty students arrived on their motorbikes, exhausted from a final math exam. They brought everything they needed to make banh troi—glutinous (sticky) rice flour dough, a whole coconut, sugar and sesame seeds.  Some went right to the kitchen and started cooking.  Others took a quick nap, three in our bed and one on the couch.   Several watched television and two others played on our iPad.

Sleeping on the Couch

Meanwhile, the cooks went into action.  I helped roll the rice dough into little balls around a small chunk of brown palm sugar.  Another team was at the stove, ready to pop the balls into boiling water  and drain them.  Someone else split and grated the coconut while another cook toasted the raw sesame seeds (no pre-packaged ingredients for these kids).

Making Rice Balls

Cooking Rice Balls

When we finished, twenty small boxes of pizza were delivered (how else?) on a motorbike. Somehow we found space on the couch, ottoman, chair or floor and devoured the pizza, choosing from seafood, vegetarian, pepperoni and Hawaiian varieties.

Pizza Party

After the students cleaned up the kitchen, it was time for some entertainment.  Moshe popped a “Story of Math” DVD into his computer and a few students watched in on the television.  More popular was our favorite game, Qwirkle, which requires lining up tiles in different shapes and colors to score the most points.  Although they’d never played, these honors students caught on quickly.

Playing Qwirkle

Fiercely competitive, they played in teams, with a plateful of banh troi to nibble on when their energy lagged.  No sooner did they finish one game than they’d start another, playing three in all. Then the students quickly disappeared, some with bottles of coke and cartons of leftover pizza under their arms, leaving us to a clean and quiet apartment along with what was left of the sticky rice balls.

Three weeks later we had a return engagement when four students and a faculty member came for a final Tet celebration.  The students wanted to make sure we didn’t miss any of the traditional holiday delicacies and taught us how to make a couple of them.

They brought ingredients for making banh troi, with enough extra for us to take back home.  They also brought many Tet specialties already prepared, wrapped in green banana leaves and secured with slender bamboo ties.  We learned that the tie can be used to cut the contents of the package into even slices.

Slicing Rice Cakes

The contents of the little packages were different, but if you guessed they contained sticky rice, mung beans and pork you would be right most of the time.  They also brought popped rice cakes, which looked like Rice Krispie squares, and candied coconut ribbons.

Working together, it didn’t take us long to make the banh troi.  I took notes so I could make them once we get home.  Then they heated up the various rice cakes and we were ready to eat.

Last Tet Lunch

Dish Duty

Since the girls did most of the cooking, the boys washed the dishes.  Once the kitchen was clean, we got down to some serious games.  First we played two games of Qwirkle.  Then we taught them a card game and they taught us one.

Playing Games

When they left, Moshe and I were sorry to see them go.  Since we’re getting ready to leave Hanoi, we know it will be a long time before we find a team to come in, cook lunch with us, help clean up and spend the afternoon playing some of our favorite games .

Leaving on their Motorbikes

(If the images don’t format correctly on you e-mail, you can view it on the website: <>.


  1. Lovely blog! 🙂 Moshe’s students are so interesting, aren’t they? (and their banh troi are much much better-looking than mine, actually)
    And I really like the way you write, everything is so real, just like I was there enjoying everything!

  2. btw, is that banh chung from Hai Phong? My cousin brought me two the other day, they were all very good. But they even tasted better when being fried, I think.

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