I grew up believing that the first day of Tet (Vietnamese New Year) is an extremely important day because that day will determine how the rest of the year will turn out. I'm rarely a traditionalist but this is the exception where I try my hardest to make sure nothing goes wrong and that it's a complete day of relaxation and happiness. So, each year I take the day off from work to simply enjoy and do whatever I want. Plus, it's a good way to force myself to unwind.
While I don't usually partake in the family festivities anymore, my favorite thing about Tet is the food feast. We'd usually eat some amazing homemade taro egg rolls, braised pork belly, roasted pork, roasted duck, and some desserts, along with some candied fruit.
My mom enjoys making banh tet which is a roll of pandan coconut milk sticky rice with mung bean filling wrapped in banana leaves, giving the rice a wonderful and fragrant flavor. It's a popular tradition in Central and Southern Vietnam during this holiday. My mom can make one outstanding banh tet - the best I've ever tasted. The problem with buying it elsewhere versus making it at home is it's much more expensive and the flavor can often be bland or they don't use enough pork fat in the filling. I've witnessed the evolution of my mom's banh tet and it's great to taste the improvements she made in perfecting her recipe.
Inside the middle of this particular banh tet is buttery mung bean, rich and fatty pork belly, salted duck egg, and a bit of fish sauce, salt, pepper. It's savory, rich, sticky, and slightly sweet. Each element of the banh tet could've been consumed each on its own and would still have tasted wonderful. It's a dish that requires great skill, technique, and boil time of six hours. It's rich and the flavors are so well balanced.
Fun Fact: The banh tet doesn't need to be refrigerated (if completely wrapped) and will last for two weeks room temp.
I'm so glad that she made us some to eat - it's a nice taste of home and a great way to start the new year!
Just for fun, here are some peculiar Vietnamese New Year traditions & superstitions that my family partakes in:
- The first person to enter the house on new years day is extremely important because they will reflect how the year will perform, so typically you nominate the lucky person that you think will bring good fortune to the year. My sister, Huong, told me that this year, it will be her, my mom, and their dog named Lucky. I laughed my butt off to the thought of the dog walking in at midnight.
- Unless you were invited to someone's place, be sure to stay at home or you risk getting blamed for ruining the holiday and for causing misfortunes in the year.
- Don't take the garbage out on New Years because you may be throwing out good luck.
- Be sure to clean everything before New Years so you can start out fresh and new.
- Negative talk and arguing on that day is believed to cause bad luck, so you must stay positive!
- Honor the deceased by burning Hell death notes/death money while giving prayers. I enjoyed this part as a kid and always made a wish for my grandma to use this money to win her Bingo! games in heaven.
- I could care less about receiving money but of course, you can't forget the red envelopes, which I give to my parents and the family members that I love and respect. My parents have started giving Patrick and I red envelopes again since the last two years - it's nice to keep up with these traditions as a token of good fortune. The money given should be new crisp bills, and if possible, sequential.