A fine place to begin an exploration of Vietnamese culture is in the kitchen, which, according to Vietnamese tradition, is the home of the God’s kitchen. This powerful deity is charged with monitoring each family’s behavior and reporting back to heaven.
The kitchen god makes his annual journey to heaven on the twenty-third day of the twelfth lunar month, riding aboard a carp. On this day, families throughout Vietnam release a live carp into a stream or river. The kitchen god’s account will affect the family’s fortune in the coming year.
This myth emphasizes the importance that Vietnamese families place on preparing and sharing meals. Not only does food nourish the body, it is also a means of strengthening bonds between families, communities and the living and the death.
On the first three days of the Lunar New Year, the first and fifteenth days of each lunar month, and the death anniversaries of ancestors, people place offering of food on their ancestral altars and invite the deceased to enjoy a meal with the living. Offering typically include sticky rice, boiled chicken, rice wine, and fruit. In the south of Vietnam, during the Lunar New Year, people place an offering of custard apple, coconut, papaya and mango on their altars, since the names of these fruits, when spoken in the southern dialect, form a prayer for prosperity and happiness.
Vietnam Tet Holiday – the Taste of Tet
Vietnam has many festivals, which, collectively, are called “Tet”. The most important of these is Tet Nguyen Dan, the Lunar New Year, an event marked by family offering ceremonies and feasts, visits to friends and relatives, and community amusements like lion dances, human chess games and traditional folk operas. This period could be one of the best time to visit Vietnam as well. However, to be in Vietnam during the Lunar New Year you will need a well-planned holiday as almost all country is on the new-year break and you might have trouble finding hotels and other travel related services.
The food served at various Tets carries a great deal of symbolic meaning. “Banh Tet” are long, cylindrical cakes of fatty pork and bean paste wrapped in sticky rice and steamed in a banana leaf, the shape of which represents the linga, or the male genitals. These cakes are always accompanied by “Banh Giay”, a round cake that represents the female genitals. Another essential dish during the Lunar New Year is “Banh Chung”, a square cake with ingredients similar to those used to make “Banh Tet”.
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