This easy Vietnamese sweet corn pudding recipe makes che bap in the Hoi An style of Central Vietnam. Che bap is the Southern Vietnam sweet corn pudding, while che ngo is the Northern Vietnam sweet corn pudding. This recipe makes the Central Vietnam sweet corn pudding called che bap or more correctly, chè bắp.
Our easy Vietnamese sweet corn pudding recipe makes the style of Central Vietnam’s chè bắp from Hoi An. We lived in the ancient port town’s atmospheric historic centre before we moved to Cambodia’s Siem Reap and might have still been living there if it wasn’t for a ‘mistake’ made by our visa agent.
This recipe makes the chè bắp that we used to eat as a late afternoon treat, perched on the lovely chè seller’s tiny wooden stools on the sunny square by the Hoi An river. Chè is a style of Vietnamese dessert that can be like a pudding, a porridge, even a soup. Some chè sellers offer a dozen or more sweets, while some, like our chè bắp vendor in Hoi An, specialise in just a few.
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Now let me tell you about this Vietnamese sweet corn pudding recipe for chè bắp.
Vietnamese Sweet Corn Pudding Recipe for Che Bap in the Hoi An Style of Central Vietnam
If you make our Vietnamese sweet corn pudding recipe and it doesn’t sit quite right with you, then your memories may be of the chè bắp in Saigon or somewhere else in Southern Vietnam. There it’s made with sticky rice and has a floral taste and perfume courtesy of fresh pandan leaves.
It’s the recipe for Southern Vietnam’s chè bắp that you’ll mostly spot in Vietnamese cookbooks, food blogs, cooking websites and elsewhere online. I can’t explain why a recipe for the chè bắp that we used to tuck into from those tiny stools in Hoi An doesn’t appear in online Vietnamese food sources in English.
You won’t find Northern Vietnamese chè bắp online or in Vietnamese cookbooks either and that’s because in Hanoi and elsewhere in Northern Vietnam they call their sweet corn pudding by a different name, and that’s che ngo, or more correctly, chè ngô.
There are a few differences between Southern Vietnam’s chè bắp and Northern Vietnam chè ngô. The big difference is that the Southern Vietnamese chè bắp is made with glutinous rice, also known as sticky rice, as well as tapioca pearls or sago pearls.
Note that tapioca pearls and sago pearls are not the same and can’t always be used interchangeably but in Southeast Asia, especially in Vietnam and Cambodia, cooks will often recommend one and if you can’t get hold it, they’ll suggest you use the other. They are very much used interchangeably here in Cambodia.
In Southern Vietnam, the corn kernels are generally shaved off the cob with a grater, so the pieces are smaller than in Central Vietnam and the North, where the corn is typically sliced off the cob with a knife, and you can really taste the corn and it has more texture.
In the Southern Vietnamese chè bắp recipes, you’ll always see pandan leaves on the ingredients list. They give the dessert that distinctive floral taste and scent that many desserts in the South, as well as in Cambodia and Thailand, have.
I personally prefer the Northern Vietnamese chè ngô as I like the bigger pieces of corn, I don’t think the pandan flavour is necessary – in a way, it’s distracting – and I like that it tastes just as savoury as it is sweet, whereas the Southern Vietnam sweet corn pudding can sometimes be almost sickly sweet.
But my favourite Vietnamese sweet corn pudding is that of Hoi An, where it’s also called chè bắp, even though it’s almost a fusion of the Northern and Southern styles of this delicious sweet corn dessert. In Hoi An, there’s more coconut milk, sesame seeds sprinkled on top, and more tapioca pearls or sago pearls.
I only have a few tips for making this Vietnamese sweet corn pudding recipe.
Tips for Making this Vietnamese Sweet Corn Pudding Recipe
Just a few tips for making this Vietnamese sweet corn pudding recipe. Begin with preparing the tapioca pearls or sago pearls. If your packet actually comes with instructions, follow them. If not, try my method, below.
While some recipes call for the pearls to be rinsed numerous times, those same recipes sometimes call for starch to be added to thicken the pudding or to make a slurry with the coconut milk. I don’t think either are necessary.
Don’t take your eyes off the tapioca pearls or sago pearls and make sure to stir them constantly as they will stick to the bottom of your pot if you don’t. Once they’re cooked, they will continue to soak up flavour and colour, which is why some of mine in the images look almost brown.
As the pearls are transparent, that’s partly due to the light and partly due to them having soaked up the sweet porridge. If you don’t like this colour, then add the pearls at the last minute before serving. In this case, note that they will only be there for texture.
I have used a lot less sugar than many recipes and added salt for balance, because this is what I loved about the che bap made by the Hoi An seller we used to frequent. If you prefer your sweet corn pudding sweeter, then by all means add more sugar.
Do take care when toasting your sesame seeds and make sure you toast them over low heat and continually shift the pan about and take them off the second they’re ready as they can easily burn.
Vietnamese Sweet Corn Pudding Recipe for Che Bap
- 1/2 cup tapioca pearls or sago pearls
- 6 cups of water
- 2 corn cobs
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 200 ml coconut milk
- Sesame seeds toasted
- To a small saucepan, add the tapioca pearls or sago pearls and 2 cups of water and stir. Turn the heat on to low and stir continually so that the pearls do not stick to the bottom of the pot. Bring to a boil and continue to stir until the pearls are completely translucent (around 10-15 minutes); you don’t want to see any whites. Remove from the heat and run under cold water to remove any excess starch, then set aside.
- Remove the husks and silk threads from the corn cobs, then run them under cold water. Stand a corn cob up in a large mixing bowl, holding the top firmly, then using a knife, slice off the corn kernels from top to bottom, as close to the cob as you can. Repeat until all the kernels have been removed.
- In a medium-sized pot, boil the bare corn cobs in four cups of water. When the water boils, reduce the heat to a rolling boil for 10 minutes, then, using tongs, remove the cobs and discard.
- Add the corn kernels, 150 mls of coconut milk, sugar and salt to the pot and simmer for 15 minutes. Taste, then add more sugar or salt to your liking, along with the tapioca or sago pearls. Combine well and simmer for another 5 minutes. Set aside.
- In a small pan, toast the sesame seeds over low heat until brown, continually shifting the pan so that the seeds do not burn.
- Distribute the corn pudding between bowls – it should make two medium bowls (or four small bowls) – then spoon over the remainder of the coconut milk, sprinkle the sesame seeds on top, then perch yourselves on tiny plastic stools and pretend you’re in Hoi An.
Please do let us know if you make this Vietnamese sweet corn pudding recipe as we’d love to know how it turns out for you.