Like many cultures in their festive seasons, Vietnamese in Vietnam and around the world have Vietnamese traditional food for the Tet celebration. Vietnamese, from generation to generation, just simply call Tet for the Lunar New Year. Kids in Vietnamese families at their first age have already heard the sounds of the "Tet" from their parents.
Tết - Tet - Vietnamese Lunar New Year.
Vietnamese in Vietnam celebrate the Lunar New Year as one of the biggest and the longest public holidays in this country. Tet happens on the same day as the Chinese Lunar New Year. Many other Asian countries also celebrate this Lunar New Year.
As Christmas in Australia when family members reunite, Tet is the gathering day for Vietnamese families. This is also a special festive day that kids in a family will know how big their extended family is.
In the past, Vietnamese often mentioned "Ăn Tết", direct meaning "Eating Tet". There were foods at that time that Vietnamese, especially kids, only could taste in the Tet festival season. Much traditional food was only prepared and cooked by Vietnamese families in Tet to keep the tradition in each family. Delicious dishes for family members returning home from far away and family guests were the must-have-dishes in Tet. Tet was the time to have the most delicious food.
Things have changed. Every food that people like to eat in Tet has been replicated to sell on normal days by many food businesses. Vietnamese don't have to wait till the Tet to taste a special dish. Nowadays, Vietnamese mention Tet as "Chơi Tết", the direct meaning of "Enjoying Tet", or "Entertaining in Tet". It is more about fun activities and fun time, not much about the food anymore.
The tradition still keeps rolling
We might think that the Vietnamese traditional food for Tet will disappear since it could be tasted on a normal day.
However, in each Vietnamese family, tradition keeps flowing in all sorts of ways. Each family still prepares and cooks Vietnamese traditional food for Tet, in a full version or a quick version. Firstly, food is important to worship the ancestors. Secondly, it is for the reunited family. And lastly, it is to welcome visits from friends and guests. With the traditional food, Tet is more meaningful and homey in Vietnamese families.
With its three different climates in three regions, Vietnamese traditional food for Tet vary from region to region. In the Northern area, the weather is cold in Tet; in the Southern area it is warm and hot, and in the Central area it is in the between. Therefore, food for Tet is prepared and served differently.
Image: Traditional Food For Tet For Worshipping Ancestors. From left to right: Netted Spring Rolls (Southern area), Stir-fry Veggie, Cha Lua Vietnamese Ham Sausage With Sticky-Rice, Boiled Rooster (Central area).
In general, there are traditional foods that are similar in three regions with different Vietnamese names. These foods are popular in Tet, especially for worshipping the ancestors on New Year Eve or the first day of a new year. Every home will have boiled whole rooster, sticky-rice cake, deep-fry spring rolls, pickled onions, and Cha Lua Vietnamese Ham Sausage. Each family has a generation-pass-to-generation special dish or two for worshipping their ancestors.
Image: pickled onions
Rice paper rolls (fresh spring rolls) are not often the food for ancestors' worship. However, it is the most popular food for the Tet meals, especially after the third day of the Lunar New Year festive season. In the rice paper rolls meal, ingredients could be the left-over Tet food from the previous days, adding the fresh vegetables and fruits. Many families buy the fresh ingredients for the rice paper rolls meals from a nearby market on the first opening day of the market in the new year. These often are light meals and very enjoyful. Each member of the family often makes their own fresh rolls.
How does our family celebrate Tet in Melbourne?
Lunar New Year's day is not a public holiday in Australia. Our family just simply celebrates it with simple preparation. In our family, we welcome two flows of Vietnamese traditional food for Tet, one from the Central region and one from the Southern region. It's good that our kids know the diversity in food from their parents' ancestors.
For the sticky-rice cake, we have both types, Bánh Chưng - Banh Chung - sticky-rice cake in a square shape, popular in Vietnam Northern and Central area, and Bánh Tét - Banh Tet, the sticky-rice cake in a rounded shape, popular in the Vietnam Southern area.
Image: sticky-rice cake: Banh Chung in a square shape (Northern and Central area), Banh Tet in a rounded shape (Southern area)
I know how to make almost Vietnamese traditional food for Tet, especially a square-shaped sticky-rice cake, Cha Lua Vietnamese Home Sausage, and spring rolls. We often try to make these foods in Tet to show our kids the Vietnamese tradition. The recipes and skills received from my parents have been gradually transferred to the next generation, our kids.
Image: a banana leaf from my home garden in Melbourne to make traditional food for Tet
Tet is often in the summer in Melbourne. It is very warm (and hot) during the summertime. This is one of the reasons we often have rice paper rolls meals in the Tet, often with seafood recipes.
This year 2021 Tet might be very different. Vietnamese people around the world cannot fly back to Vietnam for Tet due to the pandemic. The big Vietnamese families in Australia and Melbourne might not fully gather all the members to celebrate Tet as in the past years.
We wish you all the best for the Lunar New Year.