Asians are a ritualistic bunch.
This past Sunday was the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar. The “double fifth” day represents the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. The Chinese celebrate with dragon boat festivals, the Koreans have Dano and the Japanese recognize kodomo no hi.
In Vietnam, we celebrated Tết Đoan Ngọ:
Tết Đoan Ngọ (literally: Tết: festival, Đoan: the start / straight / middle / righteousness / just, Ngọ: the seventh animal of the Chinese zodiac- the horse), Tết Đoan Dương (Dương: yang), Tết Trùng Ngũ (Trùng: double, Ngũ: the fifth), Tết Đoan Ngũ, Tết Trùng Nhĩ or Tết Nửa Năm (Nửa Năm: a half of a year) is a festival celebrated at noon on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. This day is the day when the Great Bear star’s tail direct exactly to the south. At this time, the universe brings the greatest amount of yang yi in the entire year. Therefore, creatures and people must become stronger in both their health and their souls to overcome this.
Ba Sau (my grandma’s sister) invited us over to her home to celebrate the holiday with a midday feast. We indulged in sticky rice, barbecued pork, banh hoi, chicken porridge, boiled chicken, bo bia, fried rice and goi.
The two traditional foods of the holiday are banh u and com ruou. Banh u are pyramidal sticky rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves. They are oftentimes stuffed with mung beans, but the ones we had at Ba Sau’s were plain, so we dipped them in sugar. The banana leaf essence is the dominant flavor.
Com ruou, which literally translates as “rice wine,” are little balls of fermented rice bathed in wine. My aunt told me that com ruou is eaten early in the day to fight the “worms” in one’s stomach. In addition to being ritualistic, the Vietnamese are also very superstitious! Com ruou is very strong and quite delicious. I think the worms in my stomach were properly extinguished after consuming three balls.
The Astronomer and I are thankful to have Ba Sau in Saigon to introduce us to these wonderful local foods, traditions and customs. She’s the best!