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Preserving Local Features of Traditional Tet
Date: 01/02/2019

Despite having moved from the North to live in the South of Vietnam for more than 40 years, Ms. Nguyen Thi Huyen's family (Area 3, An Thoi Ward, Binh Thuy District) still preserve the customs of Tet celebration in her birth place. Moreover, as Tet holidays come, they usually prepare chưng cakes (square glutinous rice cakes), pickled onions and Vietnamese brawn, etc. in ‘real Northern’ style. With this activity, her family help bring the local customs to her fellow Northerners who miss their hometown as well as to help introduce another feature of Tet to Southerners.
Ms. Huyen is preparing ingredients

"Thịt mỡ dưa hành câu đối đỏ, cây nêu tràng pháo bánh chưng xanh” (fatty pork, pickled onions, red couplets, Tet pole, fireworks, green chưng cakes) all make a complete Tet Holiday for the Northern people. Therefore, without chưng cake and pickled onions, Northerners feel as if there were no Tet holidays at all. Although we had to live a difficult life during our first days in the South, my family still tried to prepare traditional dishes as offerings to our ancestors, and then the whole family gathered enjoying them in the same way that we had celebrated Tet in the North. I always love cooking, and I started making and selling these Northern dishes more than 20 years ago. My first intention is that the people who are living far from homeland but cannot prepare traditional dishes can have them on Tet. Secondly, my neighbors and acquaintances, who love the taste of Northern food, can try it,” says Ms. Huyen. She also shares with us the story of how her family started the job of selling traditional home-made dishes.

At first, Ms. Huyen and her mother only sold these dishes to her acquaintances. The good quality of her delicacies has been told far and wide, and more and more customers have ordered her products. Every year, her family spends the whole 28th day of lunar December making about 300 chưng cakes which are sometimes not enough to sell. Ms. Huyen says, “In addition to the orders in advance, we often make 15-20 extra pairs of chưng cakes for ourselves and give our relatives as presents. However, some customers have insisted to buy them all, and of course, we have no cake for our Tet celebration.”

According to Ms. Huyen, the secret of delicious chưng cakes is to strictly follow the traditional recipe. The cake must be made from “nếp cái hoa vàng” (yellow flower sticky rice), green bean stuffing, bacon, 4 purple onions in 4 corners of the cake and be wrapped with dong leaves to create the natural green color and traditional flavor. The other steps are equally important. The cooking water must always be hot until the cake is cooked. After that, the cooked cake is taken out, cleaned thoroughly and pressed appropriately. This way ensures the length of storing the cake at the room temperature for 4 days, and it still smells aromatic and tastes delicious. This year, Ms. Huyen has accepted orders for about 1 week. She plans to make chưng cakes on lunar December 28th, cook them in the next morning and deliver them to her customers. Not only individuals but also companies and offices call to order her chưng cakes. Besides, she makes pickled onions, Vietnamese brawn, steamed pork legs and dày cakes (glutinous rice paste).

Because her husband was from O Mon District in the South, she makes some tét cakes (cylinder-shaped glutinous rice cakes). She especially likes five-colored tét cakes including natural white, green pineapple, red gac, violet leaf, yellow cape jasmine. Recognizing the current trend of online business, Ms. Huyen has introduced and received orders of other dishes such as sticky rice, tea, and jelly cake via social network all year round for over 6 years. She sells moon cakes for the Mid-Autumn Festival, and orange jam, custard jam, coconut jam etc. on Tet holiday. Especially, before Tet, she accepts orders of carp-shaped jelly cakes on lunar December 23rd; after the second day of the Lunar New Year, there are many orders of steamed sticky rice, both sweet and meat-stuffed. Her cake making, especially cakes, jams, traditional dishes has provided her family with a significant source of income. It also contributes to preserving the customs of the homeland. At the time of wrapping and cooking cakes, she can teach her children about the traditions and customs of Vietnamese people.

According to Ms. Lam Quoi Thanh, Vice Chairman of the Women's Union of An Thoi Ward, Binh Thuy District, the trade village here is famous for making tet cakes with the style of Ms. Sau Trong’s family. In addition, the ward also has groups of families making paper flowers, crystal flowers, growing organic vegetables, carpeting etc. These traditional crafts have created more jobs for local workforce and provided people with varied products of high quality on Tet holidays.

Source: Can Tho Newspaper. Translated by Diep Truong

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