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There are nine traditional dishes made in the north of the country, but one that can be considered the very soul of Vietnamese Tet is banh chung (square glutinous rice cake).
For thousands of years, this cake has always been present on the ancestral altar of every family in the north.
Main ingredients of this special cakeare glutinous rice, pork, and green beans wrapped square in broad-blade leaves that will give the rice a green color after about 12 hours' boiling. The wrapping power must be neither too tight nor too loose.
The legend is that the 6th Hung King, who wanted someone to succeed him, told princes that he would abdicate it to whoever brings the most special things to worship Heaven and Earth before the Lunar New Year.
Most of the princes searched high and low, in the mountains and the seas, looking for special offerings, but the 18th prince, Lang Lieu, stayed put. A deity informed him that there is nothing more valuable than rice, because it is the food that feeds the people. The deity advised the prince to use glutinous rice to make square and round cakes to represent Heaven and Earth, and wrap it with a leaf and a dumpling, representing the mother and father giving birth to a child.
When the cakes were offered to the king, he was so pleased that gave up his throne to Lieu and named the square cake banh chung and the round cake banh day.
Since then, in honor of this, Vietnamese people always make and have this for the Lunar New Year. Chung cake has become the most famous and irreplaceable traditional Vietnamese food in Tet holiday. The two cakes are also prominent among the many things on the tray when worshipping the Hung King’s death anniversary on the 10th day of the third lunar month.
In the traditional conception of Vietnamese people, the process of making Banh Chung is an opportunity for the family’s reunion. Sitting around the fire, family members tell one another the past stories and are ready for a New Year with best wishes.
The other eight Tet dishes typical to the north of the country including dua hanh (pickled welsh onion), gio lua (lean pork paste), gio thu (pig’s head paste), thit dong (pork meat cut into pieces cooked with fish sauce and peppers until it is well stewed and then let it cool and freeze it on the refrigerator), nem ran (fried spring roll), canh mang (dried bamboo shoots soup), canh bong (pig’s dried skin soup), ga luoc (boiled chicken) and che kho (soft green bean) cake.
Nem ran (fried rolls), once only cooked for Tet parties, is now so popular with its aromatic crispy cover, tasty and delicious filling, and lightly salty, sour, sweet and peppery dipping sauce, that it can be had every day or every weekend.
A Tet offering tray should never lack a boiled rooster, because it is believed that offering this dish to Heaven and Earth on the New Year Day will ensure an auspicious start and bring in an abundance of happiness.
“Dipping a piece of the yellow chicken covered with thin strips of lemon leaves in a sauce of salt, pepper, chili and lemon juice is one of the most enjoyable, characteristic Tet experiences,” Mr. Hai said.
The che kho (soft green-bean) cake is another popular Tet dish in the north, particularly among Hanoians, he said.
The ingredients of che kho are simple, green beans, white sesame and sugar, but they come together to create an irresistible taste and texture – cool and so soft that it melts quickly in the mouth./.