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Vietnam is a country in the Eastern Hemisphere that was influenced by China for many years. Therefore, the Chinese New Year and Tet, the Vietnamese New Year have many similarities. Tet is the abbreviation of Tet Nguyen Dan which means the first morning of the first day of the new period.
Tet marks the beginning of a new year on the lunar calendar, and the beginning of Spring. Vietnamese are constantly aware of the phases of the moon. All events are planned by the lunar calendar. The New Year begins on the first night of the first moon after the sun enters Aquarius. This is sometime between January 21 and February 19 on the solar calendar.
Tet is a huge celebration lasting three days. Families save money, store food, and plan far in advance for Tet, major holiday in Vietnam. The Vietnamese take extreme care to start the New Year out right. They buy new clothes, paint and clean their homes, cook three days worth of food, pay off all debts and make amends to rid themselves of all bad feelings. Cleaning is frowned on during Tet because one would not want to sweep out any good luck. Digging and drawing water is also not allowed so the ground and water can enjoy the holiday.
Food plays a major role in the Tet celebration. Tet is a time of excess, one does not enjoy Tet, one "eats" Tet. The first day a feast of boiled male virgin chicken, sticky rice, a special soup made with clear vermicelli and bamboo shoots, boiled pork, and 3 or 5 duck eggs is offered to ancestors who have returned to their homes. Sticky rice and salt are also offered in the streets to any hungry ghosts who might be wandering in the neighborhood. A traditional food is Earth cake, a square cake made with rice beans and pork. When a watermelon is cut they believe that the redder the watermelon the more luck for the family. Several different desserts and dishes are made with coconut. On the third day another feast of virgin chicken is served to say farewell to ancestors returning to their ethereal abodes.
Canh mang (Dried bamboo shoot soup)
Soak dried bamboo shoots in water for 2-3 days to soften. Boil 2-3 times if necessary. Cut into 5cm strips. Fry with pig trotters and salt. Add water, bring to boil and simmer until meat is tender. Garnish with green onion.
Bong (Dried pig skin)
Soak dried pig skin (the skin should be yellow, which means it has been pre-treated) in water for one hour. Drain and then add a cup of rice whisky and fresh ginger. Rub onto the skin (this will remove the smell). Cut into diamond-shaped pieces.
To make fresh chicken stock, add dried shrimps and dried huong (perfume) mushrooms, which have been pre-soaked in warm water, to 2-3 chicken carcasses. Bring to boil and simmer. Remove the dried mushrooms. Cut carrot and kohlrabi into decorative shapes (flowers, leaves etc). Boil the dried pork skin in the chicken stock for several minutes until tender. Add French/ string beans. To serve, mix all drained ingredients (place vegetables on top) and garnish with coriander.
Hanh muoi (Pickled onions)
You should make this dish about two weeks before Tet. Clean onions. Dissolve some salt and sugar in warm water. Add onions, cover and keep in a clean, dry place for two weeks.
Mien (Vermicelli noodles)
Cut mien into lengths and pre-soak for 10-15 minutes in water. Boil chicken innards (liver, heart, etc), salt and green onions in a fresh chicken stock. Mix with mien and serve.
Moc (Pork soup)
Buy raw minced pork. Add dried mushrooms, which have been soaked to be softened. Mound pork on the mushrooms and boil in chicken stock.
Ga ran or luoc (Fried or boiled chicken)
Fried version: marinate raw chicken in salt, sugar, garlic, fish sauce and burnt sugar. Fry chicken and marinade in oil.
Boiled version: served with julienne lemon grass.
Ca chep kho rieng (Carp with galangal)
Scale carp, cut into steaks and fry. Add finely sliced galangal, fish sauce, salt, burnt sugar and water (this makes the fish turn dark brown). Cook over a low heat until the fish is hard and little liquid remains.
Bo kho que (Beef with cinnamon)
Tie up beef muscle firmly with several strips of bamboo. Break cinnamon into small pieces, rub into beef. Sear.
Add fish sauce and salt, and cook over a low heat. Only cut beef when about to serve. The meat should be firm but not tough.
Xoi gac (Steamed momordica glutinous rice)
Soak glutinous rice in water overnight. Drain. Cut open the momordica (qua gac). Remove flesh and large black/red seeds. Mix this with a small cup of rice alcohol. Mix rice with salt and qua gac mixture.
Steam in a rice steamer. During steaming, add some chicken fat and stir through. When steamed, add a little sugar and stir through with chopsticks. Mound onto a plate and decorate with the black seeds from the fruit.
Che kho (Soft green bean cake)
Soak green beans in water overnight to soften. Rub and remove skin. Drain. Cook in boiling water until soft. Drain and grind into a wet powder. Mix with sugar in a pan over a medium heat. Keep stirring until a little drier and smoother. Place in a mound and invert onto a plate. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. To serve, cut into slices like a cake.
Mut (Preserved fruit)
Prepare a week before Tet. The most important thing is to maintain the shape of the fruit. Use apple, potato, tomato, plum, ginger, mandarin, or gourd.
Apple: Pierce skin lengthwise, but don’t cut too deep. Place in a bowl of cold water and lime. Soak overnight. Wash carefully and dry. Cover in red sugar. Stir very carefully in a dry pan over low heat until sugar melts and solidifies. Take off heat. Press down carefully on top of apple to make into shape evocative of a seashell.
If using a kumquat, a traditional Tet fruit, use white sugar to keep the natural orange colour of the fruit. You must also keep the stalk in to keep the shape. You must also carefully press juice out after piercing skin.
Last, but not least
After indulging in all the above, remember that you cannot throw out any leftovers until the fourth day of Tet. It would also be highly inauspicious to sweep the rubbish from the house as all the good luck you have been working hard at will disappear with it.