Tết is a Vietnamese name to call Lunar New Year holiday, which often occurs at the end of January or the begin of February based on the lunar calendar. Like Christmas and Thanksgiving in Western countries, Lunar New Year with Asian people is the most special occasion of the year for family, for a self-reflection as well as sending well-wishing to our beloveds. In Tết holiday, all family members will gather and share happy moments after a hard-working year. After years in study abroad, it’s quite difficult to indulge in a truly Tết without family and best friends, which causes an effort to go back Vietnam on Tet holiday.
As some foreign people haven’t known, it is a mistake 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. Our two refrigerators are fulfilled with a lot of delicious-traditional-Vietnamese foods prepared by mom. Due to traditional Vietnamese proverb, we could be hungry all year except the Tet holiday. It’s quite easy to understand why Vietnamese people will prepare a dozen of delicious food before Tet that will be feast the ancestors first, then all family members and guests.
Chung Cake – a traditional Vietnamese savoury sticky rice cake for Tet holiday, which has long been known as a symbol of Earth cooked by using 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. In my family, mom prepares all ingredients 1 day before moving to the process of wrapping and cooking Chung Cakes. And the secret to have a qualified Chung Cake is in the ingredients which must be well-prepared. I see it’s pretty ridiculous to spend £10 to £15 for a Chung Cake in London. After years living in the “tasteless-and-nothing-special-cuisine-country”, I realised that I’m so obsessed in eating Tết food.
My favourite is to enjoy the Chung Cake with some Vietnamese pork sausages and homemade pickled ramps (củ kiệu). On Tet holiday, people are likely to ditch eating and consuming larger quantities of comfort food and calorific drinks. To support the metabolism, pickled vegetables are served on the side. Pickled ramps and Mustard greens (made by my mom; of course, I’m so obsessed with mom’s food) are my most favourite side dish (I know I have numerous things called “the most favourite foods”), which will help my digestive system digest high-protein food efficiently.
Another indispensable Tết food in my family 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.
Although I cook a lot in UK, I seem to enjoy eating the foods cooked by others when in Vietnam. At least I did something for my mom that she can show to relatives her good home-chef daughter. My food is 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), some chopped 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, put them all into a container and pop into the fridge in 1 – 2 days until the pig ear slices are getting sour.
Besides sumptuous foods, flowers is a thing cannot miss out in Tết, 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 iconic flowers that exclusively appear on Lunar New Year feast. The light red colour of peach blossom aims to bring the luck while the yellow of apricot blossom will bring the fortune to the home owners. Additionally, one quite-funny fact about me is my name “Thanh Mai” means a little apricot blossom tree, named by my grandmother.
Although I’m a over-20-years-old-big-kid, I still receive lucky money in red envelopes from elders as congratulation gifts for my new age during the first three days of Tet. I thought it was a little treat when I’m still going to school even 23. Giving lucky money has been known as a popular traditional custom in Vietnam and other Asian countries (e.g. China, Thailand, Korean, and so on).
Tết means to me like Christmas with Western people. It should be a meaningful occasion to stay at home with a fulfilled fridge of delicious foods, and celebrate with my beloveds, of course send the warmest wishes to others and get lucky money in return.