Vietnamese New Year Food
Vietnamese New Years or Tết is a week long festival of family fun, worship, renewal and of course feasting. Vietnamese New Year Food forms a huge part of the festival. Everyday Vietnamese food is prepared from ingredients bought fresh from the market everyday. During Tết the markets are closed and fresh herbs and meat aren’t available. All the food bought before Tết needs to last until the markets open again.
Before the dawn of refrigerators the only way to keep food fresh for a few days in tropical weather was to pickle it, stew it or wrap it in banana leaves. Today a typical Tết meal carries on this tradition of naturally preserved food. From the delicately wrapped Banh Chung to the divisive boiled chicken, Tết food is markedly different from normal Vietnamese fare and well worth a try when you are here.
Our Favourite Vietnamese New Year Food
Banh Chung is a solid cake of sticky rice stuffed with stewed meat, vegetables and/or eggs before being wrapped in phrynium leaves (a type of plant related to ginger) and boiled for up to 24 hours. It is either steamed and served hot or sliced into thin pieces and fried until it is crispy. Before Tết you will see blocks of Banh Chung lined up on street stalls all over the city. Keep an eye out for shops offering Banh Chung wrapping services where you can make your own.
Gio is a generic term used to mean a type of pork meat that’s been wrapped in banana leaves and steam cured. It can be smooth or coarse and comes in dozens of shapes and sizes.
Dua Hanh or Hanh Muoi (pickled onions)
Every year for Tết families make or buy delicious pickled onions cured in rice vinegar, salt, chilli, ginger and a little fish sauce. The taste is sharp, salty and moreish with a satisfying crunch.
Dua Gop is a type of lightly pickled veg made with carrot, white radish, cucumber and any other veg available at the time. It’s the lightly pickled slaw you normally see on a Banh Mi expect at Tết it’s rarely shredded with people prefering larger chunkier cuts of veg. It’s prepared a few days in advance using rice vinegar, fresh water, sugar and salt.
This one isn’t quite so appealing to the western eye but it is delicious. To make Thit Dong you first make a soup full of choice cuts of pork and a stock made from stewed bones. The finished soup is well reduced before being cooled in the fridge. The natural gelatine in the bones firms up into a thin jelly once it cools. It’s eaten cold with a side of sticky rice.
Everyone knows and loves Vietnamese Spring Rolls. Their fresh taste and crispy texture have made them an international favourite. Most families will prepare Nem according to their family’s recipe days before Tết and keep them safe in the freezer.
Xoi (Sticky rice)
Xoi is a type of hearty, filling sticky rice, seasoned with tumeric and topped with dried meat and veg. It’s a classic, live long dish that can be safely stored and eating for breakfast everyday.
Leading up to Tết farmers will start fattening up the best looking broilers and get them ready for the pot. Chickens are boiled in water seasoned with herbs and salt and are often arranged in elaborate positions to form a centre piece for the table. The taste is sweet and robust but the meat is a lot tougher and chewier than that of western birds.