Wednesday , May 29 2024

Tet leftovers leave families no choice but binging


Khanh Van gasped as the shelves of her refrigerator collapsed under the weight of all her Tet leftovers on the third day of the Lunar New Year.

Twenty days before Tet, Van’s mother-in-law in Thanh Hoa Province called to tell her that she and her aunt’s family would be buying an 80kg pig to share between the two households. Lunar New Year (Tet) is the most important holiday of the year in Vietnam. This Tet lasted from January 20-26.

Van didn’t try to stop her because she knew she couldn’t.

Instead, she just advised her mother-in-law “not to overstock on food.”

This year, Van’s eldest and second sisters-in-laws were both too busy to come home so there were only four adults and two children in her family enjoying the Tet break.

Not only that, the family received few guests over the holiday.

“However, my mother-in-law and my aunt still decided to split the cost of buying the whole pig,” Van said, adding she had sent VND5 million ($213.06) back to her hometown for her family to spend on Tet preparations.

Due to her busy schedule, Van and her husband only made it back to Thanh Hoa around lunchtime one day before Tet. Her mother-in-law had already made all the food for several days of Tet feasts, so she didn’t have to do anything.

After three years of marriage and inter-family Tet celebrations, Van is still surprised by all of the Tet food supplies at her house.

When she arrived, there were two dozen banh chung (Vietnamese square sticky rice cakes) on the table and five rolls of cha lua (Vietnamese pork bologna) in the fridge.

Meanwhile, her mother was warming up pots of meat and braised fish on the stove while prepping ingredients to make batches of fried spring rolls.

As a daily ritual, Van’s mother-in-law also made rice offerings every morning. So as all the incense sticks burned, the trays of food went cold.

Van admits that the first few Tet meals were excellent. But she said that the subsequent days of overeating protein-rich dishes and chowing down banh chung eventually wore everyone out.

“Since each guest can only eat so much, the amount of leftovers is bound to increase,” Van explained.

Since it would be a waste to throw away the food, Van’s family had to keep on eating.

Sausages, pork and frozen meat all ended up in the same pot and were boiled together to make suppers in the days that followed.

By the third day of Tet, everyone in the family was tired of eating too much food.

“They even had to take digestive medicine for their stomachs,” Van said. “All my husband and I want to do is eat the standard amount of food we consume every day.”

Tet feast of a family in Hanoi. Photo courtesy of To Thi Huong Giang

Tet feast at a family home in Hanoi. Photo courtesy of To Thi Huong Giang

Many families resort to feasting on leftovers over the Tet holiday, just like Van’s.

In a recent poll of 500 VnExpress readers, when asked “How is your family stockpiling for Tet?”, 10% of respondents said their families had enough food to last them a month.

Meanwhile, 41% said they had hoarded enough for the Tet holiday and 49% said they had stocked up at a normal rate.

Nguyen Tat Dinh’s family in Hai Duong Province said his family had a massive quarrel about how many dishes to include in Tet feasts. The eating of leftovers was just one small part of the argument.

Making elaborate delicacies to offer to the ancestors is a significant tradition for the 43-year-old man’s family, especially because his dad is the eldest son of the family.

His family has a tradition that each food tray must have at least a whole chicken, spring rolls, banh chung, fried dishes, and more. Not only that, but the piles of food must be extra-large to be considered lucky and a portent of a good year coming.

As a result, his mom is always busy in the kitchen because she has to dish out hefty trays of food all day and night.

Though she is turning 80 years old this year, she needs to get up at 4:30 a.m. every day to make a tray of 12 to 15 dishes.

She takes a small break when she’s tired and then hurries back into the kitchen to finish preparing the festive meals.

When he’s home, Dinh helps his mother in the kitchen. In an effort to make things easier on her, he also brings some ready-to-eat food and tells his mother to heat them up when offering them to the ancestors.

According to him, his father never does housework because he is the head of the home and a traditional man.

Tet is the most exhausting and stressful time of the year for my mom,” Dinh said.

Although his father understands that preparing so many elaborate dishes for Tet is a burden for his wife, he scolded his son when Dinh proposed cutting back and just making basic offerings.

Every Tet holiday, articles about what to do with leftovers are posted regularly on an online community group with over 2 million members.

Hanh, a woman from Phu Tho, recently posted a variety of ways to make new and different dishes from leftover pork. Her post has raked in over 3,000 likes.

She also said that her family is traditional when it comes to making dishes for Tet feasts and offerings to ancestors. So, after Tet, her refrigerator is always full of food and leftovers.

She considered a variety of preparations for the meat before settling on making spring rolls.

“Making spring rolls is a good way to get rid of extra boiled pork since both adults and kids like to eat them,” she explained.

Chicken is a versatile ingredient, and many women in the community group have shared ways to make chicken salads, soups, vermicelli, and Hoi An rice. The most common type of roll is the spring roll, and there are various variations on how it’s prepared, from using braised rice instead of sticky rice, using vermicelli instead of rice noodles, to using sliced noodles instead of rice noodles.

What does it mean?

Associate Professor Bui Hoai Son of the National Assembly’s Committee for Culture and Education said that stockpiling food for Tet has been a tradition for many generations of Vietnamese people.

“The Vietnamese hold faith that if they eat well during the first three days of Tet, the coming year will be prosperous,” he said.

Moreover, he continued, families still believe that it will bring bad luck if their family “misses a particular food on the table.”

On top of that, the early spring Tet offerings and New Year’s Eve holidays take up more than a week – some people even celebrate for over a month – and abundant servings of food are essential for each and every days’ ceremonies.

Families want to put on a lavish spread every year to show that this year is better than last year. So, every ceremony needs ever bigger trays full of food.

Another big cause of Tet overstocking is that everyone wants full trays of food to show their hospitality towards guests, so they often make more than they can eat.

Unfortunately, this means that many households have to gorge themselves on leftovers even after they’ve grown bored of them because they’ve eaten all the newly cooked food in the first few days.

Son said that this situation could be changed without changing the value of Tet.

“Culture and tradition are rich in meaning. It’s not just the ritual and practice, but also the Tet spirit, that must be preserved,” he said.

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