Bánh chưng

A Culinary Journey to Vietnam – Part 1: New Year Dishes

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).

Bánh chưng
Bánh chưng

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.

Mứt Tết
Mứt Tết

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.

Ngũ quả (The Five Fruit)
Ngũ quả (The Five Fruit). The pineapple and the orange-coloured fruit are extra added.


  1. Bama

    I love it when food is the center of a festival or celebration, as is the case in many places in Asia. I’ve had several Vietnamese dishes, but I’d never heard of the dishes you mentioned in this post before. Happy Tết, Len and his master! 🙂

    1. Len Kagami

      “Haven’t experienced Tết” might make a good reason to come back to Vietnam, don’t you think? 😉 As a culture lover, I think you will like it. Although you don’t celebrate Lunar New Year, I still wish you and your family a wonderful 2017 with lot of health, luck and prosperity 🙂

      1. Bama

        Indeed. I’m planning for a trip to Central Vietnam this year. But I know one day I will have to return to visit the north. Thanks for the wishes! The same goes to you too!

    1. Len Kagami

      They are healthy too, although they were covered in sugar 🙂 My favorite flavors are coconut and kumquat which is very good for digestive system, especially after eating all those food.

      1. Mel & Suan

        Oh yeah? Ah yes we recall now. The offerings are to the ancestors. We also saw (when we were children) that chicken and meats were offered. They were wrapped in cellophane though and we had them after lighting the joss sticks!

  2. Jolene

    Are these the baby steps towards transitioning to a food blog? 😉 Awesome cooking by the way. To be honest, I can’t believe how different Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine can be. I seriously haven’t seen any of that food (maybe I need to move away from just the pho hotspots…)

    1. Len Kagami

      We can see the food post as extra content 😉 I think food is a part of travel. We don’t go to other countries to eat things that we normally eat/ or can cook at home, right 🙂
      Moving away from the Phở hotspots might be a good idea 🙂 Different regions in Vietnam has their own specialty.

  3. michelle

    Wow! Your photography is unbelievable. I will admit, I have been to Vietnam about 4 times in the past with work, probably 8 years ago – and I was never adventurous! I was so scared that I’d get sick that I would just live on rice. But now that i’ve been living abroad and traveling much more, i’ve become so much more open to new foods! And your post is making me want to go back to Vietnam! michelle

    1. Len Kagami

      Thanks a lot! I am glad to hear that 🙂 I was like you. Very skeptical about foods and drinks while travelling. So I used to stick with foods/food chains that I am familiar with. But foods belongs to culture as well, you learn by eating 🙂 Today, I am more open to new dishes, but there are still something I will never try such as insects, anything that is still moving or dishes that have strong odors…

    2. Len Kagami

      By the way, great blog! I like it a lot, especially your post about your first experiences in Germany. It looks like we all had troubles with Vodafone and its customer service 😉

      1. reuseitgaming

        these ones no, but its hard to find good vietnamese food where i live now. back home in sydney there are large vietnamese communities so you really take it for granted 🙂

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