Essence of Vietnamese Tet

Vietnamese Tet

Tet holiday, which usually falls on late January or early February, is coming to town in Vietnam. This year, Tet falls on the second week of February and will finish before Valentine’s Day (^!^). Tet is for family reunion, making offerings to ancestors, decorating streets, homes, visiting relatives, friends, and gathering around Tet meal. Tet is also for making the best wishes for the each other to expect a new year with prosperity, health and success. Vietnamese people always take this chance to sit together around, enjoy traditional dishes and drink some wine to celebrate the most important event of the year.


Vietnamese Tet

Vietnamese dishes for Tet holiday are abundant, far more protein-rich and sophisticatedly made than daily meal. It even takes months to prepare some dishes before Tet. While fathers and sons decorate homes with ornamental trees such as peach blossom, mandarin and Chrysanthemum, moms and daughters are busy preparing for ancestor offerings and cooking food for Tet meal. Though many ideas of Tet are borrowed from the Chinese (e.g., firecrackers, lion dances, red money envelopes), the food part is pure Vietnamese.

1.      Chung cake

As mentioned in my previous post about Vietnamese traditional cakes, Chung cake is a square shaped-  package of sticky rice, mung bean puree and seasoned pork. This traditional one should be indispensable every time Tet is coming. It is believed one week before Tet is the most favorite time of Tet holiday when people are busy preparing for Tet, washing dong leaves, making Chung cake and gathering around red stove cooking it. It usually takes 6-8 hours for boiling process that cooks the packages is enough. My family of four people often make about 8-10 cakes for 10 days of Tet. And what I love the most is cut Chung cake into triangle wedges using its bamboo floss. Finished Chung cake dish must be that soft, moist, stick and green.


Vietnamese Tet

If your banh chung is hard and old or you have leftovers, you can fry it to a delicious crispiness. Cut it into chunks and fry it up into a crispy pancake and again, enjoy it with a little sugar. Use a nonstick frying pan, a little oil and moderate heat to make things easy on yourself. During the frying process, the banh chung will soften, giving you the opportune moment to use a wooden spatula to flatten it out and mesh it with the other chunks into a unified pancake. Flipping the banh chung pancake is a little tricky so use a plate to invert it out or if you're daring, flip it in the pan with a flick of the wrist. Sticky rice is pretty forgiving.


Vietnamese Tet

Bánh tet is a cylindrical-shaped banh chung filled with bananas instead of pork, which is more popular in the south of Vietnam. Like most forms of Tet food, you will have to, once again, unwrap the banana leaves to get to the content of your bánh tet. But, by now, you might just be getting the hang of it.


Vietnamese Tet

2.      Pickles

We often eat Banh Chung with pickled pickled shallots and leeks. My mom made a lot of pickles and preserved them in the bottles. The typical aromatic, sour-sweet and crunchy flavor of these pickles goes well with fat jellied meat and tasty sticky rice cake to play the role of balancing and awaken the Tet atmosphere in every family dinner. There are many kinds of pickles, from onion, cucumber, mango, cabbage, and fig, etc. These members of the onion family are meant to help facilitate digestion of all the rich meats eaten during Tet.


Vietnamese Tet

3.      Nut and candied fruits

Mut Tet (Tet jam) is not a food to serve in a meal during Tet holiday, but more like a snack to welcome guests in this special period. Mut is always kept in beautiful boxes and placed at the table in the living room, and it is the main food for the owners and guests to taste when they’re talking, enjoyed over a cup of tea. Unlike Western jam, which is usually in liquid form and served with bread, "Vietnamese jam" is mainly in dry form, usually dried fruits and some kind of seeds (pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, watermelon seeds). This once-in-year mix of snack is very large in variety, with so many tastes: ginger, carrot, coconut, pineapple, pumpkin, lotus seed, star fruit, sweet potato. Nowadays, cake and sweet are slowly replacing jam in Tet period, but many people still love the taste this unique food – an angle of Vietnamese culture.


Vietnamese Tet

4.      Spring rolls

Spring roll is a familiar dish in Vietnamese meals, especially on the occasion of the New Year. Pork meat, shrimp or crab meat, fragrant mushrooms, ear mushrooms, dried onions, eggs, and other spices are all mixed together and rolled in special rice paper. Fried spring rolls are generally small and crisp.


Vietnamese Tet

Each dish have a specific demand of dipping sauce and with fried spring roll it requires a good hand to make one. A quality dipping sauce bowl for this dish must be the harmonious combination of flavors such as lemon juice, sugar, chili and pepper the fish sauce.

5.      Boiled chicken


Vietnamese Tet
Boiling chicken is an art. And the boiler is an artist!

Thit ga (boiled or steamed chicken) plays an important role in Tet holiday cuisine because all the tribute meals to the ancestors must contain a boiled chicken, whole or chopped. Chicken meat in Tet meals are various in forms: usually chicken are boiled and sliced, but sometimes people can place the whole chicken in a plate, or nowadays some families use roasted or fired chicken to replace the original boiled ones. Chicken meat is served with Xoi (sticky rice) and Banh Chung, and become one of the most popular main dishes in Tet holidays. Boiled chicken are always go with sliced lemon leaves and salt-and-pepper sauce, as a tradition. Chicken (especially bones, legs and heads) can be used to prepare the broths for other soups.


Vietnamese Tet

6.      Vietnamese cold cuts

Here's another convenient food for the holiday. There are many types of flavors for Vietnamese cold cuts, including Gio thu (headcheese), gio bo (silky beef and dill sausage) and cha mo (steamed pate of pork and lardons that's fried to a crisp in the end) and Gio lua (basic silky sausage). This traditional dish is usually served with Xoi and Chung Cake. The special sausage is made of lean pork mixed with fish sauce, and steamed or fried for hours.


Vietnamese Tet

7.      Red sticky rice

In our welcoming-new-year ceremony, we often steam red sticky rice with bloody red color that people can find nowhere else in the world except for Vietnam!


Vietnamese Tet

“Gac” is a type of fruit grown exclusively in Asia. When ripe, the fruit itself turns to a dark orange color, with the exterior covered in small spines while the interior is full with clusters of intensely red fleshy pulp and seeds. It has been traditionally used as both food and medicine in Vietnam. If one has a habit of reading the nutrition information on packaging label, he or she will surely fall in love with “gac”, since it has the higher beta carotene concentration than any fruit and veggie on the Earth. “Gac” is also a great source of antioxidants, phytonutrients and other vitamins which all create a natural panacea for skin and vision.


Vietnamese Tet
It is the seeds of “gac” with the red aril coating that gives the bright red color as well as the fragrant flavor for “xoi gac

People also may use mold to create the special shapes for “xoi gac”, adding some sesame and coconut on the top to make it more appealing. Amazingly, although “xoi gac” has a sweet flavor, it goes harmoniously with “ruoc”- stringy salty dried pork, “gio lua”- Vietnamese pork pies or chicken.

8.      Five-fruit tray

One theory says that the five fruits are symbolic of the five basic elements of oriental philosophy - metal, wood, water, fire and soil. Other theories regard the tray as symbolic of the fruits of a family's hard work throughout the past year, which are consecrated to heaven and earth and their ancestors as sign of respect and gratitude.


Vietnamese Tet

The custom of displaying the five‑fruit tray as votive offerings at the holy place of the house has been reflected in many popular legends and tales. It has originated from ancient popular beliefs observed from one generation to another in their worship towards their forefathers. To this day, the Vietnamese still observe a long‑standing custom of placing the first ripe fruits harvested from the home garden on the altar and burning incense sticks in memory of their ancestors.


Vietnamese Tet

The “Mam Ngu Qua” in Tet Festival represent the quintessence that Heaven and Earth bless humans. This is one of the general perceptions of life of the Vietnamese, which is “Ăn quả nhớ kẻ trồng cây” ("When taking fruit, you should think of the grower")

9.  Caramel sauce dish

These dishes, called kho in Vietnamese, are terrific must haves for Tet. In the south, it's fatty pork leg, eggs and coconut water.   Stewed pork riblets are excellent and so is a kho made with beef drop flank and ginger.  These dishes can be prepared days ahead, which explains why kho (salty simmered/stewed meat dish) dishes are present at traditional Tet celebrations. If meat isn't your thing, then cook shrimp or fish in caramel sauce. 


Vietnamese Tet

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