Tet, or Tet Nguyen Dan, or Vietnam’s Lunar New Year is close related with traditional foods and rituals. In local vernacular, people don’t just celebrate Tet – they “eat” or “relish” it, and food related rituals are at the heart of the New Year holiday. A traditional Tet meal is not meant just for families, neighbors and guests but is also a tribute to ancestors and the departed. As such, a New Year meal incorporates both foods for sacrifice and foods for the stomach.
Foods for sacrifice, which are placed on ancestral on Lunar New Years Eve, including the Five Fruit tray, square rice cake and bean sweets or jams. The regional differences in Tet meals are mainly demonstrated through these foods.
A traditional New Year meal in the North (like Ha Noi, Hai Phong, Ninh Binh, Ha Long or Sapa) is comprised of 4 plates and 4 bowls, meant to be symbols of the fours seasons and four directions. Among wealthier families, these become six or eight plates and are thought to bring more more fortunes and prosperity. Lunar New Year meals in the Center of Vietnam (like Hue, Phan Thiet, Nha Trang, Dalat, Hoi An or Da Nang city) are not restricted to regulations on the number of plates and bowls. However, the tradition of balancing watery and savory dishes is maintained. The South (like Can Tho, Ho Chi Minh city or Phu Quoc) New Year meals has a more rustic quality.
The Vietnamese Tet meal is supposed to “bid farewell to the old and greet the new” on the last day of the lunar year. If time is no object, visitors and locals alike should experience Tet Nguyen Dan in each of Vietnam different regions to truly understand the diversity and culinary delights to be found in traditional New Year treat from North to South.