When the weather is getting colder and colder, the drizzle starts to sprinkle down from the cloudy sky, and hoa dao (peach flower) and hoa mai (Ochna Integerrima) begin to brighten up the whole country, Vietnamese people are busy preparing for Tet Holiday, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year. People look to Tet with hope and joy. Everything in Tet, from the colors they choose for clothes and flowers to the food, has its own meaning, all are for a luckier and happier year.
Scroll down to take a look at 7 unique Tet foods. Altogether, they create a distinctive feel and flavor that makes Vietnamese people abroad feel homesick just by looking at their pictures. But before starting, here’s an interesting fact about this grand nationwide festival. I’ve just said about “how Tet is celebrated”. However, in the Vietnamese language, Tet is not literally celebrated, but “eaten” instead! In Vietnam, ăn Tết (enjoy Tet) is understood as celebrating Tet. This shows how important food and cuisine are to the Vietnamese New Year.
Considering a Vietnam trip during its traditional New Year? Read more articles to find out how Tet is celebrated in Vietnam with Exotic Voyages through our series of posts about the Vietnam Tet Holiday.
Ask anybody in Vietnam which food comes to their mind first when talking about Tet. I’m sure that the answer is banh chung and banh tet (it’s tét, not Tết, the festival). While both of these banh are essentially rice, fatty pork, and bean fillings packed neatly inside green banana leaves or dong leaves, there’s some obvious difference between them. In general, banh chung is an iconic Tet food in Northern Vietnam. Meanwhile, banh tet usually represents Southern Vietnam.
Apart from the regional difference, their shape is quite contrasting too. Banh Chung is square as it symbolizes the earth (ancient Vietnamese people believed the sky is round, and the earth is square), while banh tet is tube-shaped. To many Vietnamese people who have the chance to gather with their family to make banh chung overnight, sometimes the making process even brings more Tet memories and stories than the flavor itself does.
This is another popular Tet food that is easy to make. Boiled chicken is basically a whole chicken boiled to the color of pale yellow. The chicken is not to be eaten until it had been placed on the altar to pay homage to their ancestors.
Afterward, the chicken is cut into smaller pieces like a turkey in the West. Because Vietnamese people simply boil the chicken with water, it is served with a small dish of salt, thinly-sliced lime leaves, and chili then squeeze lime juice over to create a salty, spicy, and sour sauce of sour. Sometimes, they decorate a red rose on the boiled chicken as well.
Every meal in Vietnam includes a shared bowl of soup and Tet meals are no exception. During Tet, people from across the country often go for a frugal and hot bowl of vegetable soup with pork skin. The vegetable selection often includes broccolis, cauliflowers, carrots, mushrooms, and peas, added with young shrimp and some meatballs.
The broth is slightly sweetened with braised meat bones. Ingredients are plenty but the only one thing that can’t be left out is the pork skin. Though its flavor is very light, the pork skin gives joy to eaters by how its scabrous surface felt inside the mouth when being chewed.
Gio Lua is made by pureeing pork meat which is marinated with fish sauce and pepper, then packed tightly with banana leaves and boiled for hours. Gio Lua is often served with Banh Chung and Banh Tet.
Although not every people in Vietnam is able to eat these pickled things, they are still unquestionably one of the essential foods during Tet. The sour taste of pickles goes very well with the fat of sticky rice cakes. (Photo: A traditional Tet meal with Chung Cake, Gio Lua, and pickles)
The five-fruit tray is a must-have on the altar during Tet. The exact selection varies through time, region, and even the house owner’s preference. However, they must be of a different color as the five-fruit tray also plays an important role in decoration for Tet.
In Northern Vietnam, popular choices are orange, banana, pomelo, green apple, pear, and the “Buddha’s hand” fruit. Meanwhile, in Southern Vietnam, where some of those fruits are not available due to a hotter climate, people often choose watermelon, papaya, mango, pineapple, coconut, or dragon fruit.
This is the favorite one for children across Vietnam during Tet. The candied fruits platter is often bought in the set or chosen one by one, or even made in-house. Apart from being used to welcome guests, they are a common choice within Tet gift baskets. Like the five-fruit tray, candied fruits often vary a lot in terms of the component. The most popular ones are coconut, carrot, star fruit, lotus seed, ginger, or kumquat.
The candied fruit platter is often put on display in a round box used only for Tet. A beautifully-decorated traditional box is divided into five to seven smaller segments. Each segment store one or two items. I say items instead of fruits because apart from fruits, the box also includes pumpkin seeds, watermelon seeds, or sunflower seeds. In recent years, these boxes have evolved quite considerably, with candies, chocolates, or pistachios replacing candied fruits. So here you have it, the 7 most popular foods that you shall encounter when traveling to Vietnam during Tet. We hope you enjoy this post and we will come back next week with more Tet-ness.
Next Part: Vietnam Tet Holiday (Part 2): The Preparations