This Friday begins the Year of the Horse! Our family has been busy preparing for the Lunar New Year and our favorite part is the food, of course. We already begin celebrating, if by celebrating I mean eating our way through Tết. I did a little research and discovered that some of my favorites are traditionally Vietnamese Lunar New Year foods. Some of them are time consuming to make so I can see why they’re only prepared for special occasions.
Perhaps the most ubiquitous food for Tết is savory sticky rice cake wrapped in banana leaves. They come in two shapes: square (Bánh chưng) or cylindrical (Bánh tét). The first photo above is what it looks like before we unwrap it. They’re made with sticky rice and is filled with mung bean paste, fatty pork, and seasoning. It’s a rich dish so pickled vegetables are usually served with it. I’ve never made my own nor have I seen any of my relatives make it. We usually just purchase it from our local Vietnamese market or at Lunar New Year festivals. We ate the one pictured last week and I just bought another to eat on Friday. Read the Vietnamese folk tale about how bánh chưng were created at The Ravenous Couple.
One of my favorite snack foods is nem chua, a tangy, sweet, salty, garlicky, and spicy fermented meat roll (or squares). I searched online for a recipe and realized that it’s traditionally made with ground pork. I’ve only grown up eating the beef version my mother made. The next time I talk to her, I’ll have to ask why she uses ground beef. I have a feeling that ground pork was a common grocery item in Louisiana. I remember how she made me take pork butt to the butchers at Piggly Wiggly and ask for it to be ground. (How I hated that job!)
I have bought it from Vietnamese delis and markets but they never taste like mom’s version. My mom showed me how to make it a couple of years ago when she was visiting us, but she never measures and didn’t write anything down. Does that sound like your mom? I found a nem chua recipe that I will try, but with ground beef. Have to honor my mother’s recipe.
You can’t celebrate without sweets, right? During Lunar New Year, there’s a plethora of dried, candied fruit (mứt): coconut, ginger, tamarind, lotus seeds and more. They come usually come in round, bright red containers. I never cared for mứt growing up because I’m a savory snacker and didn’t care for how sweet they were. My cousins loved them. Though I will eat candied ginger because the spiciness counters its sweetness.
Pomelo, a large citrus fruit similar to a grapefruit, is also popular during Vietnamese Tết. To pick one, make sure it’s heavy for its size. The rind is very thick but totally worth the sweet, slightly tangy, juicy sections. I buy pomelos whenever we spot them. The kids circle me like vultures as I peel the citrus for them.
Technically not a traditional Lunar New Year food, you can’t go wrong with Godiva’s Year of the Horse Limited Edition Chocolates. It comes with four unique flavors: White Chocolate Pineapple Macadamia, Milk Chocolate Cherry Almond, and Dark Chocolate Caramel Pear plus some more of their traditional chocolates. The dark chocolate caramel pear was our family’s favorite. I love Godiva chocolates (and should treat myself to them more often) and the red and gold packaging is makes it a beautiful Lunar New Gift. Plus Lady Godiva is riding her horse, which fits with the theme perfectly.
There’s plenty of other Vietnamese foods that are eaten to celebrate the Lunar New Year. After all, it’s a three day celebration! The ones I’ve listed are what our family eats. While I’d love to celebrate for three whole days, it’ s not always possible. We never have leftovers!
Which of these Vietnamese Lunar New Year foods would you try or have tried?
Learn more about the Lunar New Year:
- Lunar New Year Children’s books
- Lunar New Year books for babies and toddlers
- Lunar New Year Greeting cards
I received the Godiva chocolates for review. All opinions are my own.