Jun 2008

Tết Đoan Ngọ


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!


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8 thoughts on “Tết Đoan Ngọ

  1. “…traditional foods of the holiday are banh u…”
    I recall this is called “banh u tro”, because tro (ash) is used in the water to make it. Banh u tro also comes with sweet black bean inside. Happy belated “Mung 5 Thang 5” 🙂

  2. SnakeMonkey – Happy Tết Nửa Năm to you too!

    WC – banh ba trang sounds damn good. We’ll have to include it on “THE LIST.” And thanks for the heads up, my friend Matt in the states might be messing with the site while I’m asleep.

    N – If it wasn’t for Ba Sau, Sunday would’ve been another ho hum day 😉 My family in America doesn’t celebrate it either. And about the “proper” forms, Google deserves all the credit!

  3. I believe we called it bánh tro. I didn’t know that it was Tet Doan ngo. That’s what you get when you don’t live in a Vietnamese community and you don’t have some cool relatives like your Ba Sau. My family never celebrated this event though.

    Oh and I’ve been meaning to say that I’m really impressed that you write Vietnamese words in their proper forms. Make me ashamed of my laziness sometimes 🙂 (case in point: my “Tet Doan ngo” and your “Tết Đoan Ngọ”)

  4. hello my names dave and i live here in ho chi minh city. my girlfriends grandma just made Com ruou for the holiday and holy mother it was so strong i could only force down one!

  5. Dave – I’m not much of a drinker but I did manage to down three whole balls. I think you need to be tough and extinguish the “worms” from your belly 😉

  6. I think ‘banh u’ is wrapped by bamboo leaf, not banana leaf. The bamboo leaf makes ‘banh u’ have a very distinctive smell. The ones you find in market will surely be wrapped by bamboo leaf, but they may also have it home-made with different wrapping leaf. some people from the central also use a kinda leaf called ‘ke`’ leaf and the ‘banh u’ is called ‘banh u tro’ there.

  7. I’m just curious as to how you guys are able to travel so much. I love your blog but what I would love more is to be able to do what your doing. I love to travel and I love to document it but I just haven’t been able to lately or much at all. School loans and the employed life is taking its toll on me. You guys make me hungry for Asian food and for life.

  8. Some where Tết đoan ngọ means Tết trừ sầu bọ such as following:
    What does these names mean? Literally, Tet refers to festival, Doan means the start, Ngo is the seventh animal of the Chinese zodiac- the horse. Doan Ngo festival is also known as Tết sâu bọ (sâu bọ = worms, pests) or Tết tháng 5, to be celebrated on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month.

    The name “Tet sau bo” derives from the fact that farmers, on this day, get rid of all pests to start growing their crops for the new season. Therefore, creatures and people must become stronger in both their health and their souls to overcome this. On this occasion, the whole family have to get up early and eat fermented sticky and fruits. The worshipping is held at noon, hour of Ngo. The tradition of eating dumplings, especially lye water dumplings, extends from the belief that the dumplings will cleanse one’s body of any unwanted “parasites”.

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