Lunar New Year Celebration in Hanoi

Chung cakeTết dishes, the traditional dishes served on the Tết holiday, are the chưng (square sticky-rice) cake, pork paste, grilled chopped meat, brined meat, brined fish, pickled onion and different kinds of fruit jams. The most typical dish for Tết is the chưng cake.

Chưng cake is very sticky and so the bamboo string, rather than a knife, is used to cut it when served. The string used to tie the cake before cooking is split into 4 small threads, which are run through the cake to divide it into 8 equal triangles. Each triangle has three layers: a blue layer of crust, a yellowish layer of green bean, and a pink layer of pork. Thus the “chưng” cake can create this attractive picture of harmonious colors.

In the past, people had a clear cut division between ordinary meals and Tết meals. In the lead up to Tết, families were busy preparing a lot of traditional dishes for the three days of Tết. Tết was small or big in different families, but however poor a family was, they prepared chưng cakes, pork and pickled onion. Tết was not only an occasion when people could enjoy the specialties but also a time when family members could come together to prepare the dishes, especially the wrapping and boiling of chưng cakes. In big families with a lot of children, the atmosphere could be quite boisterous. Children were eager to gather around the fire with the pot of boiling chưng cakes, listening to their grandparents or parents telling Tết legends. On the last day of the lunar year, the grandfather or father in the family usually wrapped small chưng cakes for the children, while the women in the family rushed around preparing a New Year’s Eve feast.

The feast was different in different families. However, there were always traditional dishes: chưng cakes, boiled chicken, lean pork paste, roasted cinnamon pork, spring rolls, fried mixture and soup of pig’s leg and dried bamboo shoots (or soup of raw paste, chicken broth and kohlrabi, carrots).

Nowadays the concept of “eating Tết” is not the same. Tết dishes can be found throughout the year and can be eaten at any time. Some dishes, which take a lot of time to cook such as chưng cakes, pickled onion and jam can be bought in shops at any time. However, the boisterous atmosphere of preparing dishes for Tết holiday and the eagerness of the children in each family can still be seen in Hà Nội on the days near Tết holiday.