The short answer: happy wishes and vegan food.
We were invited to a Vietnamese pagoda for a celebration on the 15th day of the lunar year (March 2nd, 2018). The first day and 15th day (full moon) are considered special days of the month. Full moons are important, but we were told the first one after the new year is the most important. It is known as Tết Nguyên Tiêu. People usually go to the temple or pagoda to pray for their families and friends at some point that day. An added bonus Justine was interested in was the fact that they eat vegan food that day to start the new year off purely. There are some bad luck foods, but let’s focus on how vegan food can bring people good luck in the new year!
As the day came closer, we knew this was something special because five different people, students coworkers and teachers we work with, had invited us. We didn’t understand the importance of it until we got to one of the many pagodas in Tra VInh, and had trouble parking our bikes given that every available space had been filled with motorbikes. At the Chùa Long Bình, colorful flags and red and yellow lanterns had lined the walls indicating the new year. As we walked in to a small room packed with eight tables with 10 people each, we saw that it was a time for community building and joyous celebration of a new year.
We mindfully watched as hundreds of community members came in to pray, donate money, get their future told, and then join in on the family-style feast in the community room. Once we respectively visited the many rooms of the pagoda, we also joined in on the banquet. One would think that food made in such large quantity, and for free, would taste dull; however, each summer roll, each hot soup, and each sauce was made to exquisite perfection bursting with flavors. That’s right people, it was a five course meal.
Since we arrived closer to the end of the lunch, and they were nearly done serving food, we got to personally thank the one-woman-mastermind behind the feast. Of course she had help, but she was credited for the recipes and the chemistry behind all of it. We got to ask questions to better understand the inner workings of this meal. They start at 2am to collect the produce and at 4am the meal preparation starts to be ready to go by 10am. The meal is chosen to bring good luck to everyone who participates.
We had summer rolls with a secret ingredient (can you guess what it is?!). It had fresh mint and basil mixed with an assortment of proteins and grains. Graciously, we were offered to take some home with us. We also had a special spicy soup with pineapple, a everyday curry soup with noodles, and sweet tofu replicating pork with mixed greens and rice. We finished with Chè Bà Ba, which is a soup-like dessert with sweet potato, banana, taro and cassava. Justine was pretty hesitant while Joe jumped right in–we were both surprised with the deliciousness of the fruits and vegetables mixing together.
We were lucky to be invited to such an important event for many Vietnamese families. We’re thankful they show us so much kindness and we wish them the best for New Years!
*We wanted to remain respectful and not participate in cultural voyeurism so we asked to take pictures of the food, and chose not to take pictures of people practicing their spirituality.