The traditional Lunar New Year holiday, Tết, is almost upon us.
However, while the festival is traditional, the way to celebrate it has changed, inevitably, with the times.
Now, you can just click a mouse to do all the shopping needed for a Tết party, including food and vegetables, and this is what many people do.
For many other people, Tết is a time to remember the past, and recall a traditional Tết Market that thousands upon thousands visited, to buy peach blossoms, green dong leaves (Phrynium placentarium) and many other things. The festive atmosphere and bustle was unmistakable as people readied for the arrival of Spring.
Nostalgia for those market days is particularly acute among Overseas Vietnamese who return to their country of origin during the festival season. But it is difficult for them to return to that scene in the past.
Both the returning Overseas Vietnamese and foreigners visiting the country can experience a traditional Tet market atmosphere at Quán Ăn Ngon at 18 Phan Bội Châu Street in Hà Nội.
Trần Lệ Tĩnh, who lives in Canada, has returned to Việt Nam after 30 years of having settled abroad to enjoy Tết with her relatives. She likes the atmosphere in the city as people prepare for Tết, but she is most happy visiting the traditional Tết market at Quán Ăn Ngon.
“I’ve enjoyed very much the market’s decorations, with stalls that have natural tile roofs. The foodstuff that is sold, including bóng bì (dried pig skin), organic vermicelli made of edible canna, dried bamboo shoots and mushrooms collected from northern provinces like Bắc Cạn make it so authentic.”
Tĩnh said she also loved the lean pork paste, pork pies, as well as many kinds of “jams” made with ginger, strawberry and grapefruit, sugar-coated lotus seeds, grapefruit marmalade and sugared peanuts. What makes everything really special is that they are all of very high quality/
“All foods, fruits, jams and specialties displayed here are organic items and of good quality because we’ve signed contracts with our partners to supply them to us,” said Đỗ Xuân Thịnh, manager of Quán Ăn Ngon.
Tĩnh said her older sisters, who returned to Hà Nội for last Tết, told her that they had enjoyed the food in this market, not having to worry about food poisoning as a result of contamination.
Apart from buying the food items and jams, Tĩnh watched with great interest how the bánh chưng (traditional sticky rice cake) artisans wrapped the cake.
“They invited me to sit on a mat on which the leaves (lá dong), special glutinous rice known as nếp cái hoa vàng, green beans, pieces of pork marinated with pepper were already arranged.
“As I watched them, the image of my mother wrapping the cake when I was a little girl came to mind.
“One of the bánh chưng artisans, told a group of us including foreigners touring the market that he’d done this for almost 30 years. He said he is very happy doing it because it serves people, and, most importantly, preserves the nation’s culinary culture.”
The square cakes are cooked for 14 hours to ensure its green on the outside, evenly soft, delicious, and have the aroma of green-beans, pork and pepper, the artisan said.
Another part of the market that caught Tĩnh’s fancy was calligraphy. Artists and scholars provide this service, writing auspicious characters and messages including parallel sentences, so that people can keep them at home during Tết, inviting prosperity and happiness into their lives.
For the experience of “straying into a scene from several decades ago, this market will make my trip unforgettable,” Tĩnh said.
Throughout this festival season, the Tết market can be visited at 18 Phan Bội Châu Street in Ha Noi and all the traditional delicious dishes can be enjoyed also at Quán Ăn Ngon’s branch at 34 Phan Đình Phùng Street. To make reservations or enquiries, please call: 0903246963.