A banquet offered on Lunar New Year’s Eve is of paramount importance in the Vietnamese people’s spiritual life because it is not only for the ancestors but provides an opportunity for family reunion. The feast also demonstrates the Hanoians’ elegant, subtle and delicate cuisine.
The Tet banquet represents both the capital city’s sophisticated gastronomic traditions and its women’s excellent cooking skills.
Elderly Thanh, who lives in the Old Quarter, says she has spent much time preparing Tet food. “I stocked things in advance, particularly dried bamboo shoots for the Tet feast, and had to buy high-quality goods at competitive prices. The bamboo shoots need to be soaked in water for one week before cooking,” she says.
Preparing Tet food is the pride and the joy of Hanoi women. For veteran teacher Pham Hong Lien, Tet is a chance to teach her daughters and daughters-in-law how to make traditional dishes.
“As the eldest daughter of the family, I often accompanied my mother to the market to choose proper food ingredients for the Tet banquet. For example, the black grass carp is best for braised dish.”
The exquisite art of preparing Tet dishes in Hanoi is quite different from that of other localities in the Red River Delta.
Ta Anh Tuyet, a renowned chef in Hanoi, says that typical Tet foods include pork, pickles and bamboo shoots. These simple and easy-to-find materials can turn into specialties through the dexterous hands of Hanoi women.
The traditional Tet banquet consists of four bowls and six plates. The bowls are for vermicelli, bamboo shoot, meatball and dried pig skin soup while the plates are for steamed sticky rice, boiled chicken, spring rolls, mixed vegetables, pork paste and braised fish. The dishes are so stunningly decorated that many people say it’s a feast for the eyes. At midnight on Lunar New Year’s Eve, the most sacred moment of the year, the best foods are respectfully arranged on the alter for the ancestors to share with the best wishes for the family’s prosperity and happiness.