Sunday , April 21 2024

Braised pork and stuffed bitter melon soup at Tet: The meaning behind them


Braised pork with duck eggs and stuffed bitter melon soup have long been associated with regional characteristics and spiritual elements of southern Vietnamese life.

A meal served in families in the south during Tet. Photo by Kho Qua Deo

A meal served in families in the south during Tet. Photo by Kho Qua Deo

Every morning and evening from the 1st to the 3rd day of the Lunar New Year (in some places until the 4th), southerners often cook rice with other dishes to offer to their ancestors. But braised pork with duck eggs and stuffed bitter melon soup are two must-have dishes on these days.

According to cultural researcher Nguyen Thanh Loi, no one knows exactly when braised pork with duck eggs and stuffed bitter melon soup first appeared on the Lunar New Year’s days in southerner Vietnam. However, each of these dishes has a significant meaning during Tet meals.

“About 50 to 70 years ago in the south, not every family could afford to display braised pork with duck eggs and stuffed bitter melon soup on a tray to offer during the Tet holiday. Poor families consider these luxurious dishes,” said Loi. “They have to save up for the whole year until the Lunar New Year to purchase new clothes and eat dishes made from pork with the hope that they will be prosperous.”

Braised pork with duck eggs. Photo by VnExpress/Le Huu Tuong

Braised pork with duck eggs. Photo by VnExpress/Le Huu Tuong

The researcher added that in a pot of braised pork with duck eggs, the square pieces of meat and round eggs are symbols of balanced yin and yang. “The representation of a round egg is a symbol of fertility, wishing for a happy new year, and a family with many more children,” he added.

“The name kho qua – stuffed bitter melon – explains the wish for all kho, sorrows and misfortunes of the old year, to qua – pass, to receive good news in the new year.”

Braised pork is a high-energy, fatty dish, if eaten in large quantities and regularly during Tet, it will not be good for one’s health, especially for overweight people, or people with disorders of dyslipidemia, heart disease, or high blood pressure. However, stuffed bitter melon has cooling characteristics, has low calories and carbs, is high in fiber, vitamins and minerals, which is good for the liver, is a laxative and aids digestion. On Tet days, the weather in the south is often hot, and so eating a lot of food that is rich in protein like meat and fish can make you easily feel hot. A bowl of stuffed bitter melon soup has cooling effects.

Stuffed bitter melon soup. Photo by VnExpress/Le Huu Tuong

Stuffed bitter melon soup. Photo by VnExpress/Le Huu Tuong

Southern people also cook braised pork with duck eggs and stuffed bitter melon soup on special occasions such as the day of worshiping at communal houses and death anniversaries. In addition to the concept of yin and yang, the two dishes also complement each other’s flavors.

“The way southern people celebrate Tet is different from time to time,” Loi said. “But what seems right will be maintained, which is why braised pork with duck eggs and stuffed bitter melon soup have been two indispensable dishes in the Tet tray of southerners for generations.””

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