Each Asian country has its own typical dishes to celebrate Lunar New Year and so does Vietnam.
Photo from viettourist.com
Although the hustle and bustle of life have made the Lunar New Year dishes vary from place to place, there are still traditional dishes with special meanings that you may easily encounter in any Vietnamese family on this occasion. And I am excited to share with you 8 Vietnamese traditional dishes on Lunar New Year.
Banh Chung – Gratitude to the Ancestors, the Earth, and the Sky
Banh Chung, also known as the Vietnamese square sticky rice cake, is considered the soul of the Lunar New Year. Banh Chung is made from ingredients that are very close to Vietnamese people such as glutinous rice, green beans, and pork. An appetizing Banh Chung needs to be cooked with long, firm, evenly sized, and fragrant glutinous rice. The pork used must be fresh belly pork with beautiful layers of fat and lean. Green beans need to be soaked and cleaned, with golden yellow color. In terms of form, the cake must be wrapped squarely with phrynium leaves and then boiled for about 10-12 hours so that the cake is cooked evenly. When the cake is cooked to the standard, it will have the aroma of glutinous rice, the richly flavorful taste of meat, and the buttery taste of green beans.
According to Vietnamese tradition, when Lunar New Year comes, family members will gather together to make Banh Chung. The square cakes that are cleverly and meticulously wrapped are not only a traditional cuisine of Vietnam but also an opportunity for families to reunite, gather around a warm pot of Banh Chung, and tell each other about the past, future plans, and many other stories. However, nowadays, not many families keep the habit of wrapping Banh Chung on this holiday but often buy or order it. In spite of that, whether the cake is homemade or purchased, Banh Chung is always an indispensable dish in every Vietnamese home.
Boiled Chicken – Full of blessings
In every Vietnamese celebration, it is impossible not to have boiled chicken, especially during Lunar New Year. Boiled chicken can be cut up or presented as a whole. The aromatic sweetness of chicken pieces served with lime leaves, salt, and chili peppers will create a unique flavor that is very unforgettable.
So why boiled chicken? According to Vietnamese folklore, when the rooster crows for the first time in the day, the dawn will break and the sun will appear to dispel the dark night. People consider New Year's Eve to be the darkest time, so families tell each other to worship the ancestors with a rooster in the hope of awakening the sun for a year full of light. This is the desire to shake off bad luck and welcome a new beginning. Moreover, the Vietnamese believe that the glossy yellow color of the chicken skin brings good luck. Boiled chicken symbolizes a warm and prosperous life. Therefore, in the Lunar New Year feast, it is common to start with a golden boiled chicken meaning that the entire family will have a lucky start and get whatever they want.
Fried Spring Roll – Harmony and Wealth
This dish is a favorite of many people and is considered the national spirit of the Vietnamese. An inviting and standard spring roll needs to have a golden fried outside, while the fillings of meat and wood ear mushrooms inside still retain moisture, aroma, and softness. Some modern recipes add shrimp or seafood to create a sweet and different taste for spring rolls. However, the traditional filling is usually made from vermicelli, wood ear mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, carrots, onions, green onions, ground meat, and chicken eggs. These ingredients will be mixed well, rolled with rice paper rolls, and then deep fried.
The attractive fried spring rolls are often served with sweet and sour dipping sauce to enhance the flavor of the spring rolls. A good dipping sauce will make spring rolls more mouthwatering and not cloying. For that reason, the dipping sauce for spring rolls must be carefully mixed and harmonized between the salty taste of the fish sauce, the sweetness of MSG and sugar, the sour taste of lime (or vinegar), and the spicy taste of a few slices of fresh chili. Vietnamese people also add some minced garlic to make the sauce even more fragrant.
Gio Lua or Gio Xao – Happiness and Prosperity
Gio Lua is warm inside and soft outside. Traditional Gio Lua is made from the main ingredient of minced pork loin, combined with flavorsome fish sauce and different spices such as tapioca starch, baking powder, sugar, seasoning powder, white pepper,… It is then tightly bound with green banana leaves and boiled. Sometimes, beef can be substituted for pork, which is also very tasty. The smooth, firm, and fragrant Gio Lua is not only a delectable dish but also a gift for family members and relatives.
Gio Xao is much more sophisticated with the filling that includes additional ingredients such as pork ears, shiitake mushrooms, and wood ears to bring a certain aroma and crispness. When presented, Gio Lua or Gio Xao is usually thickly sliced, divided into equal pieces, and beautifully arranged on the plate.
Xoi Gac – Luck and Fortune
Xoi Gac is known as Vietnamese red sticky rice. During the Lunar New Year feast, Vietnamese people always pay special attention to the harmony of colors. It is believed that red is the color that brings good luck to everyone. Therefore, on Lunar New Year, Xoi Gac, an enticing and nutritious dish, has become an indispensable part of every family’s feast with the hope of a new year with many good things to come. Indeed, an offering of well-made Xoi Gac conveys the spiritual value of the nation's traditional holiday.
Cooking Vietnamese red sticky rice is truly an art, from choosing gac fruits and sticky rice to steaming rice. Xoi Gac after cooking must have the characteristic red color of the gac fruit. And when eating, people can feel the softness of sticky rice, the fatty taste of coconut milk and the sweetness of sugar.
Dua Kieu – Speedy Advancement
Lunar New Year dishes are not only full of delicacies but also combined with rustic and simple cuisines. Among them, Dua Kieu, the pickled scallion head, is the most outstanding one. This dish has a special position and is a typical dish of the Vietnamese people's feast. Pickled scallion heads are often served as a side dish with Banh Chung or with fatty meats to prevent appetite from being cloying. The mildly spicy and sour taste makes it easy to digest and brings a sense of appetite. People do not eat Dua Kieu too much because Dua Kieu is just a dotted color for the beautiful picture of the Lunar New Year feast. But thanks to it, people can enjoy and eat with gusto during this holiday.
To have a delicious Dua Kieu, it is necessary to choose firm scallion heads. People will cut off the leaves and soak the scallion heads in ash water mixed with borax for about 2 days. After that, people take them out to peel and cut the roots and then put them into a jar to pickle in vinegar for a few days. A successful Dua Kieu requires the scallion heads to be white, smooth, crispy, and moderately sour, with green veins.
Dried Bamboo Shoots Soup – All the Best
Dried bamboo shoots are often known as a specialty in mountainous areas. And for a long time, dried bamboo shoots have been a regular ingredient in Vietnamese families. There are many different types of bamboo shoots such as torn bamboo shoots, fresh bamboo shoots… But pork tongue-shaped bamboo shoots are the most common choice in the Lunar New Year feast. Dried bamboo shoots are boiled until tender. They are then washed, shredded, and cooked with pork leg or vermicelli to make soup. The soup has a unique aroma of bamboo shoots that you can not resist. The savory taste of meat combined with the cool aroma of bamboo shoots indeed creates an attractive dish for all diners.
Thit Dong – Everlasting Purity and Good Ties of Love
Thit Dong, known as meat jelly, is perhaps the most typical Northern Vietnamese dish. This dish is made from pork ears, pork leg meat, pork skin, wood ear, shiitake mushrooms, pepper, and a little spice. You can also add chicken to enhance the tastiness. The next step is to simmer all ingredients, which contributes to a perfect blend of distinctive flavors. After being cooled, Thit Dong will have a jelly-like texture. The presence of Thit Dong in the Lunar New Year feast of the Northern Vietnamese people has a profound meaning in addition to being suitable for the cold winter. It is like a wish for the bonds of love of all family members. Besides, the transparency of Thit Dong also implies the hope that a favorable new year will come to the whole family.