Tết is used to call the Vietnamese Lunar New Year holiday, which often occurs at the end of January or the begin of February based on the lunar calendar. As the Christmas holiday in Western countries, Tết is the most special occasion of the year for all family members to reunite and share happy moments after a hard-working year. In the last three months of 2018, I worked quite hard to go back to Vietnam for the reunion with my family on Tet holiday after two years studying abroad.
As some foreign people haven’t known, it is mistaken to call that the Vietnamese are celebrating the Chinese Lunar New Year. Even both countries use the lunar calendar, Vietnam has different customs and tradition from China.
By tradition, Tet is concerned as a time for a fresh start, since debts are settled, old complaints are forgiven, and houses are cleaned of clutter,… aiming to set the stage for attracting as much luck and good fortune as possible in the forthcoming year.
During the Tet holiday, my family always welcome a lot of relatives, my parents’ friends and acquaintances in my home, so our two refrigerators is fulfilled with a lot of delicious-traditional-Vietnamese foods prepared by mom. Due to traditional Vietnamese proverb, we can be hungry all year except the Tet holiday. Therefore, dozens of foods will be cooked on Tet to feast the ancestors as well as all family members.
Chung Cake – a traditional Vietnamese savoury sticky rice cake for Tet holiday, has long been known as a symbol of Earth because of its unique ingredients of Vietnamese agriculture. A Chung Cake includes sticky rice, marinated pork belly, mung bean wrapped in Dong leaves (its English name is Stachyphrynium placentarium) and boiled within 12 hours. My mom often takes a half of day to prepare the ingredients, and then wrap around ten cakes for family and my cousins. After two missing Tet holiday, I found my love with Chung Cake when I saw myself buying a £10 cake from a Vietnamese shop in London, and finished it within just one day without any compulsion from my mom like I was before going abroad. What a big surprise!
I often enjoy the Chung Cake with some Vietnamese pork sausages and pickled ramps. On Tet holiday, people usually eat lots of fat and oiled foods which is easy to get bloating, so we desire something with low calories and fresh like pickled vegetables. My favourite ones are pickled ramps and Mustard greens (made by my mom; of course, I’m so obsessed with mom’s food) that help my digestive system digest high-protein food more efficiently.
My other favourite food on Tet is pork head sausage, including: pork head, wood-ear mushrooms, and banana leaves. The ingredients are always marinated and stir-fried by my mom and wrapped in the banana leaves by dad. For me, the sausage is not only a so-much-yummy food, but it also has a taste of family.
Tadaa! This is a special dish I prepare for my family on Tet holiday, namely pickled lemongrass and chilli pork ear. The ingredients are just a super-clean-and-well-cooked pig’s ear (because I don’t know how to clean the pig ear, my mom always do it for me first), some lemongrass, chillies, kumquats, and lime leaves (these things aim to create a good smell for the pig ear). With pickle liquid, I mix some vinegar, sugar, salt, and fish sauce in still water that are to create sweet, sour, and salty taste. Finally, I put them all into a container and pop into the fridge in 1 – 2 days until the pig ear slices are getting sour.
On these days, my house is not only filled with plenty of tasty foods, but it’s also full of flowers, especially a big golden apricot blossom tree. Due to the Vietnamese tradition, peach blossom (hoa đào) in Northern Vietnam and apricot blossom (hoa mai) trees in Southern Vietnam are symbols that exclusively appear on Lunar New Year feast. It means that the light red colour of peach blossom will bring the luck while the yellow of apricot blossom will bring the fortune to the owners. Additionally, one special fact about me is that my name “Thanh Mai” means a little apricot blossom tree, named by my grandmother.
Although I’m an adult over 20 years old now, I still receive lucky money in red envelopes from elders as congratulation gifts for my new age during the first three days of Tet. It has been known as a traditional custom which is very popular not only in Vietnam but also in other Asian countries (e.g. China, Thailand, Korean, and so on). What an exotic tradition!
There are numerous meaningful things to do on the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, but for a taking-a-long-flight person who only has a few days to go home to celebrate Tet with the beloved family like me, these are the most memorable highlights.
Hope to see you in my upcoming blog!