The Flavors of TetFebruary 01, 2024
In case anyone wonders why we write so much about food? It’s super simple, we love food and love to eat! Vietnamese cuisine is renowned for its vibrant flavors, fresh ingredients, and intricate recipes, especially during Tet, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year. This auspicious occasion is marked by a rich culinary heritage that reflects the country's diverse regions and cultural influences. Let's delve into the diverse array of traditional Vietnamese foods enjoyed during Tet:
1. Bánh Chưng:
Among the most iconic Tet dishes is Bánh Chưng, a square-shaped cake made from glutinous rice, mung beans, and pork wrapped in banana leaves, symbolizes the Earth. The leaves give the rice its distinctive green color on the outside. The savory cake requires meticulous preparation, including an overnight steaming process of 8 hours, and is often made in large batches by families days before Tet. The cake is usually paired with its “sister”, Bánh Dày, a round version, represents the sky. The pair of cakes signify unity and prosperity.
2. Dưa Hành (Pickled Onions):
Dưa Hành, or pickled onions, are a staple accompaniment to Tet meals. Prepared by marinating shallots in vinegar, salt, and sugar, Dưa Hành adds a tangy crunch to rich and savory dishes. Its vibrant pink hue symbolizes luck and happiness for the new year, making it a must-have on Tet dining tables. Usually paired with the above Bánh Chưng to give a balanced taste and extra sour and crunchy flavors to the rich texture of the cake.
3. Thịt Kho (Braised Pork):
Thịt Kho, or braised pork, is a hearty dish often enjoyed during Tet. Pork belly is simmered in a caramelized sauce infused with fish sauce, coconut water, and aromatics like garlic and shallots until tender. Thịt Kho embodies familial warmth and prosperity, making it a beloved centerpiece during Tet reunions. The dish is served as a daily meal for families during Tet.
4. Nem/Gỏi cuốn (Spring Rolls):
Nem (Northern) or Gỏi (Southern), are fresh spring rolls, a quintessential appetizer enjoyed during Tet festivities. Fresh ingredients such as shrimp, pork, vermicelli noodles, and herbs are wrapped in rice paper and served with a side of peanut dipping sauce. These crispy and refreshing rolls symbolize wealth and new beginnings, making them a cherished treat during Tet gatherings.
5. Xôi Gấc (Red Sticky Rice):
Xôi Gấc, or red sticky rice, is a symbolic dish associated with Tet celebrations. Made from glutinous rice and the vibrant red pulp of the Gấc fruit, this sweet delicacy signifies good fortune and prosperity, as the color red represents wealth and happiness. Xôi Gấc is often served as a dessert or offered to ancestors during Tet rituals, highlighting its cultural significance.
6. Bánh Tét:
Similar to Bánh Chưng, Bánh Tét is a cylindrical glutinous rice cake enjoyed during Tet. Unlike its Bách Chưng cousin which has a square shape, Bánh Tét comes in a round shape. It features layers of mung beans and pork encased in banana leaves, representing the unity of heaven and earth. Bánh Tét is traditionally sliced and served alongside pickled vegetables and savory meats, embodying the essence of Tet feasting.
7. Mứt (Dried candied Fruits):
Mứt, or dried candied fruits, are popular Tet treats enjoyed throughout the holiday season. Various fruits such as coconut, ginger, kumquat, and lotus seeds are simmered in sugar syrup until tender and coated in crystallized sugar. They are either left dried as a kind of sweet jerky or made into sweet candies. These sweet delicacies symbolize the sweetness and abundance of life in the new year, making them a cherished gift and snack during Tet celebrations.
In conclusion, Tet in Vietnam is not only a time for joyous reunions and cultural festivities but also a celebration of culinary heritage and tradition. From savory delicacies like Bánh Chưng and Thịt Kho to sweet treats like Xôi Gấc and Mứt, traditional Vietnamese foods play a central role in honoring the spirit of Tet and ushering in prosperity for the year ahead. As families gather around the dining table, these cherished dishes serve as reminders of unity, abundance, and the enduring spirit of Vietnamese culture.