Sunday, January 26, 2014

What we do before Tết ?

Saigon, 26th Jan 2014, only one week left to the Lunar New Year, the biggest festive for most Asian countries. Over a month the weather in Saigon is unusually cold, the temperature is always around 16-17oC in the morning. And that's good because living in a tropical city we like the cold weather, so we don't need the air con, even the electric fan, for last month my electricity bill was less than 30%! Savings for Tết!

                  Tết is around the corner, Saigon begins to heat up…
To me, I usually feel the heat of Tết, when we have a small offering for "the kitchen spirits" on 23rd Dec. by Lunar calendar. According to the traditional beliefs there are several spirits living in every house to protect the house's members, so our Kitchen Gods are 2 males and 1 female: one God for the Land, one for the House and one for the Kitchen. As tradition we prepare some offerings for them before their departure back to "the Heaven" to submit the "annual report" about "us", if we do good things during the last year, the God will bless us in this year!

         The offering for Kitchen Gods at the kitchen corner, on 23rd Dec. by Lunar New Year. 

This year is the year of the Horse, so we expect everything is going better, faster, the economy has been stuck in the tunnel for several years, hopefully we find some way out, the other crisis are also solving fast, the money is coming fast…but not the Time, because Time always flies…very fast! So I wonder do we need these 5 horses carrying the Clock…Haste makes waste!

        These 5 horse carrying the Clock is the official gate to the Floral Street Festival in Nguyen Hue.

I already mentioned in my previous post about the gift during Tết. It's a big headache, it's a burden. There are some "hidden formalities" at work, other "responsibilities" at home. Last night I went to my familiar grocery store and saw this giant pack of gift, 2-meter high and costs 350 USD. I asked sale staff who order this one? Not convenient to carry back home, even by car! They told me it's a regular order from some rich families for their relatives! Look impressive!

                        Two-meter high pack gift - an order from rich family to their relatives during Tết. 

Talking about Tết in Saigon, we can't imagine without flowers, esp. the symbolic flower for South - hoa Mai, this year due to the cold weather so Mai could be not in blossom early, this morning when I rode along the highway, I saw on the other side the floating market selling mostly Mai. Many people believe if Mai is blooming in time, i.e in the first day of New Year, it's a sign of luck!

                Boats with flowers from Mekong Delta are quite busy with business these days...

             All boats together creating a floating flower market along the highway early morning...

               some big boats…I just wonder how they get in to this narrow canal...  

            some much smaller, carrying all kinds of flowers for Tết - the most sale season...

         Another flower market, right in the city, this year seems the variety of flowers is less but the price - higher.   

One more thing about Tết - if last year I have a post about the traditional sweets, I'm sure that they are the same every year, this time I really want to try some specialities from North. Living in Saigon, I'm quite curious about what people usually has during Tết up there. I did try pomelo Diễn, a famous fruit, the taste is slightly different from pomelo in South, nicely sweet with a little bit bitter, the outside skin is thinner and fragrant. Then I saw a Buddha's hand fruit, but it's very expensive so I decided not to buy, just smell it, touch it in the shop, quite fragrant peel like lemon!

            Pomelo Diễn from Hanoi - nicely sweet, no sour at all but slightly bitter and fragrant peel.

            Buddha's hand fruit, nice citron-smell peel, but expensive - 20-30 USD/ piece, depends on size.

Long ago, one of my old friends gave me, for Tết, a pot of pork stew with bamboo shoot. The bamboo shoot is called "luỡi lợn" (literally means pig's tongue), I have to say it was very good, tasted like chicken, and I also like the name - pig's tongue, interesting! But the preparation process would take a week, as we need to soak the dried bamboo shoots in water for 4 or 5 days, then we boil few times until it's ready to stew together with pork! And it's exactly the same process with another famous dried bamboo shoots from Tuyên Quang, a province up to North East.

             The bamboo shoots "pig's tongue" after 3 days soaked in water! 

Interesting to see how we, Saigonese, prepare these Northern specialities for the New Year meal, but as a fish food lover, I did order even before Tết - a famous fish stew in clay pot from village Vũ Đại. I have a review about this "legendary" dish week ago. I called it legendary as it's related to a strong turbulent character from our literature - Chí Phèo, written by Nam Cao, a master of short stories, back to 1940s. Please do check it.

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