- Vietnamese myths about food for Tet Holiday
Vietnamese myths about food for Tet Holiday
Tết is coming!
Every year around late January to early February, every Vietnamese family is excited to prepare for Tết – the Vietnamese New Year based on the Lunar Calendar. You can already feel the Tết atmosphere a month before Lunar New Year’s Eve. Majority of the preparation is for food since traditional Tết dishes take a lot of time to make.
Many of these foods have a thousand years long history. Some of them are made according to the season while others are based on old Vietnamese folk religion.
You may be surprised that the lunch and dinner tables of Vietnamese Tết are huge. Tết is the time for family reunions. Most of the time the great Tết reunion can have three to four generations sitting together. Grandparents or great grandparents can tell kids Vietnamese tales and the myths of Tết traditions.
Here are the most popular Vietnamese myths about foods during Tết holiday
1. Carp fish (Cá Chép) on 23rd of December
Image source: internet
In Vietnamese folk religion, the Home Kitchen Gods (Táo Quân) are very important. They live and work in the kitchen, keep the fire for the family and know all family members’ secrets. On the 23rd of December lunar calendar, the Home Kitchen Gods return to heaven to have an annual meeting with all other gods and report what happened during the entire year to the Jade Emperor (Ngọc Hoàng). Carp fish is the main transportation for Gods to fly back to heaven because the carp is a symbol of luck and strength.
On that day, people cook the fish by deep frying or steaming, then display the fish on the worship tray to regale to the Gods. In addition to food, people also release small carp fish to rivers so that all other local Earth Gods (Thổ Địa) also have transport.
2. Rice cake - Bánh Chưng, Bánh Tét
This is the signature food of Vietnamese Tết holiday. Every family must have at least a pair of rice cakes during Tết. Every Vietnamese kid knows the tale of Bánh Chưng, which took place thousands of years ago during the Hồng Bàng dynasty. The tale explains the meaning of Bánh Chưng as a symbol of Vietnamese agriculture civilization and as our appreciation to the Gods and nature.
Rice cake represents the ground where all of the ingredients are important products of Vietnamese agriculture. In Northern Vietnam, people have Bánh Chưng- rice cake in a square shape while people in Central and Southern Vietnam have Bánh Tét – rice cake in a cylinder shape.
Bánh Chưng and Bánh Tét – Image source: internet
Rice cake is made in layers with pork in the center, mashed mung bean in the middle and glutinous rice covering them up. Bánh Chưng or Bánh Tét is wrapped by “lá dong” leaves or banana leaves and boiled for 8 to12 hours, depending on the size. As a result, the whole wrap has a special smell and the rice has a green color absorbed from the leaves.
There are many ways to eat Bánh Chưng and Bánh Tét. People can eat with different sauces and pickles; people can freeze them for a month to keep longer and fry them after defrosting; people from the South also can replace meat by banana to make a sweet version of Banh Tét.
3. Bitter melon soup - Canh Khổ Qua
Canh Kho Qua – Image source: internet
This soup is a must-have on Tet for Southern people. The Vietnamese name of bitter melon is “Khổ qua”, in which “khổ” means difficulty and suffering and “qua” means to go away. People eat bitter melon soup with a wish that all difficulties from last year will go away.
The taste of the soup is indeed very bitter, but the benefit is cooling down inner heat. Enjoying the soup is like embracing life’s challenges, because we know they are good for our growth.
4. Vegan meal on worship table
Vietnamese people believe that all family ancestors keep an eye on us from heaven. Tết is a special time that the ancestors can get back home and have lunch with us. Therefore, we usually offer some foods specifically for them in the first meal of the first two days of new year (Mùng 1, Mùng 2).
It is not mandatory to have vegan food to regale to the ancestors. Most people pick the food that their great grandparents loved to eat while they were alive. Many elderly people like to eat vegan food and people also believe that ancestors who live in heaven also eat vegan food.
5. Red sticky rice - Xôi Gấc
Xoi Gac for Tết Holiday – Image source: internet
Xôi, food made from sticky rice, is a typical breakfast, snack or dessert of Vietnamese cuisine. Xôi Gấc is a sweet version of Xôi and it has a bright red color which is from Gấc fruit natural color.
Xôi Gấc is especially a favorite food for Tết, because its red color represents luck, prosperity and success. Xôi Gấc is usually displayed in the shape of some old Vietnamese words which mean luck, happiness or prosperity.
6. Tray of Five Fruits
During Tết holiday, each family has a big tray of tropical fruits displayed on the worship altar. It is up to the family to choose their picks so as to have a beautiful tray. However, it is essential to have five main fruits which are annona, coconut, papaya, mango and figs. The names of these fruits in Vietnamese are “cầu” “dừa” “đủ” “xoài” and “sung”, correspondingly, which together have the sound similar to a sentence meaning “Wish for sufficiency in spending”.
3D illustration of flower exhibition in Ho Chi Minh. Tết Tân Sửa 2021– Image source: internet
Nowadays, displaying fruits and flowers has become a new tradition during Tết holiday. There are many fruit art competitions and exhibitions that take place along the country annually during Tet.
7.Jellied Pork - Thịt Đông
During Tết holiday, most of the foods are cooked and fermented for a long time so that the food can last long. In the first three days of Tết, people want to minimize cooking so that the Home Kitchen Gods also have a great holiday after a hard working year.
Beside rice cakes and pickles, Northern people have jelly meat (Thịt Đông) as their signature dish for Tết holiday. Thịt Đông is a mixture of carrot, mushroom, pork meat and cartilage such as pig ear and nose. The mixture is put in a big pot, slow cooked for a few hours and then poured into smaller bowls to sit outside for a while. The natural gelatin from cartilage will help to set food in solid form. Thịt Đông is the favorite dish during winter because it is easy to make and can last for a long time. The cold weather in the North can keep it in shape nicely during Tết holiday.
Thịt Đông- Northen Tết food – Image source: internet
Eating pre-cooked food also helps us minimize trash. Hence we can avoid too much cleaning. Following Vietnamese folk belief, we should not sweep the floor because you could accidentally sweep out all money and luck for the following year.
All these stories may be myths. However, it is great appreciation to traditions by making Tết holiday foods and telling children these stories to pass on the Vietnamese culture and the spirit of Tết.
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