San Diego Tết Festival

The Astronomer and I drove down to San Diego this weekend to celebrate Tết with my family. In Vietnam, the entire country shuts down for over a week in order for families to gather and celebrate. It was beyond grand last year taking off several weeks of work to eat, drink and be merry, but it looks like this Tết I’m going to have to settle for a measly weekend. Oh, cultural norms…

We woke up early this morning to go to the temple. Instead of having a traditional Buddhist ceremony, the temple organized a festive raffle. I won a book about Africa, while Cousin Jimmy won a jade dragon wall hanging. My grandparents didn’t win a prize, but I awarded them Best Dressed honors.

After the Tết raffle, firecrackers were lit!

Before heading to the San Diego Tết Festival, we ate com chay (vegetarian lunch) at the temple. Many Buddhists refrain from eating meat during the first month of the New Year.

As we entered the Tết Festival at Balboa Park, we were greeted by a bunch of veteran carnies. We thought we had made a wrong turn until we ran into Cho Ben Thanh. Whew!

The number of Vietnamese food vendors present at the festival was pretty limited considering how many Vietnamese restaurants there are in the city. Regardless, the smell of grilled pork permeated the festival air.

Cousin Jimmy was in the mood for a banh mi and procured one soon after we arrived. Even though the sandwich was pre-made and the bread was soft rather than crisp, Cousin Jimmy still thought that it was good eats. The Astronomer went for a tall cup of nuoc mia (sugar cane juice) to start. The nuoc mia was refreshing, but too sweet because the vendor failed to squeeze in a bit of citrus like they do in Vietnam.

To accompany his nuoc mia, The Astronomer purchased some banh khot, which were served with greens, herbs and nuoc cham on the side. The banh khot were soggy in the center and tasted like banh xeo. Texturally, banh khot should be crisper and more wafer-like.

While we ate, a faux wedding procession came through.  The costumes made me feel like I was at the Citadel in Hue.

A wedding isn’t a wedding without a roasted piglet.

The highlight of our afternoon at the festival was the lion dance. The footwork was cool, but the rhythm of the drums is the coolest.

Chúc mừng năm mới! Happy New Year!

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