Food plays an essential role in Tết or Vietnamese New Year. In fact, celebrating the Vietnamese New Year is called ăn Tết, literally meaning “eating Tết“, emphasizing the importance of food in this celebration.
As the most important festival of the year, the dishes consumed during Tết are made with care and dignity. The preparation usually takes days and requires a lot of dedication. Some of the food is eaten all-year-round, while many other dishes are only eaten during Tết. These dishes are unique, with distinctive colours and flavours.
1. Bánh chưng & bánh tét
An indispensable food of Tết is bánh chưng (Northern part) and bánh tét (Southern part). Those cakes are made from glutinous rice, mung bean, fatty pork, peppers, and salts. All ingredients are then tightly wrapped in dong leaves. In case there are not enough dong leaves, banana leaves can be used as a replacement. While bánh chưng has a square form symbolizing the sky, bánh tét is cylindrical representing the moon. After moulding them into respective shapes, they are boiled for several hours to cook (often overnight).
They are usually served with pickled onion, chả lụa and fish sauce. After unwrapping, bánh chưng or bánh tét can last for several days while a wrapped one can be kept for weeks.
2. Chả lụa
Chả lụa is the most common type of sausage in Vietnamese cuisine. It is not a particular food for Tết and can be eaten all-year-round, but you will often see it on the table during the holidays. Traditionally, chả lụa is made of lean pork, potato starch, ground black pepper, garlic and fish sauce. The pork is first pounded, then seasoned with pepper, salt, and sugar. After that, the mixture is wrapped tightly in banana leaves into a cylindrical shape and boiled.
Chả lụa is normally sliced and served with bánh chưng, sticky rice and many other Vietnamese dishes. Correctly made chả lụa can stay good for about one week at room temperature.
3. Mứt Tết
As the name suggested, this kind of sweet delicacies is only served during Tết. Typically, this once-in-year dessert was used as treats for guests, often preparing in a platter full of candied fruits and roasted seeds beforehand. People usually take this chance to indulge in some sweet bites, as a good luck charm for a sweet new beginning. Mứt Tết comes in a large variety of flavours, including coconut, carrot, pumpkin, lotus seed, etc.
4. Ngũ quả
In Southern Vietnam, ngũ quả, literally meaning five kinds of fruits, is usually used for offering at the family altar in fruit arranging art. These five popular fruits are cầu (sugar apple), sung (cluster fig), dừa (coconut), đu đủ (papaya) and xoài (mango). Separately, they mean nothing. But by combining the name of these fruits, it sounds like “cầu sung vừa đủ xài” ([We] wish for enough prosperity) in the southern dialect of Vietnamese.