Last Meal of the Year in Hanoi

9:06:00 AM | 2/16/2015

For Vietnamese people, the meal platter is considered the most important aspect of the last day of the lunar year. This is not only a ritual to invoke the ancestry to celebrate the New Year with the offspring, but also a reunion meal of the family before entering a new year. For Hanoi people, they prepare traditional dishes for this meaningful meal.
The New Year atmosphere is full of joy in 90-year-old Ta Thi Tai’s house in Giap Bat Ward, Hoang Mai District. By the side of the decorative cabinet is a tower-shaped, round-leaf kumquat tree full of yellow fruits purchased in Tu Lien Village, Tay Ho District. By the side of the guest table in the sitting room is a flowery peach branch. Her family members are busy cooking for the special meal.
Tai’s family has lived here from generation to generation. As all of her children and grandchildren live nearby, she intends to have the meal earlier than other families. The tray is full of traditional dishes of Hanoi. She said “Every year, my family prepares for the last meal of the year. A tray must have four bowls: Bamboo shoot soup, bong soup, mushroom soup and shrimp soup and many other dishes like ham, beef rolls, bone-removed pork legs, pig tongue, brined fish, and sticky rice cake.”
While burning incense to invoke the ancestry to enjoy the meal with the descendants, her family members joyfully talk about their stories during the year. Then, they gather around the tray to eat the dishes that they hardly find in restaurants, fast-food shops or markets. Her daughter, Dang Thi Thuy Ngan, said she and sisters-in-law have prepared for the meal a few days before. Ingredient selection must be very careful. She said, "My family has lived in Hanoi for generations. Today is the last day of the old year and we prepare a tray of meal to worship our ancestors and gather family members. Before we proceed with the offering, we bathe with coriander leaf water to cleanse the bad luck of the old year and welcome a happy new year. Tomorrow is the first day of the year and we - a total of 60 people - will return here to wish each other a happy new year and celebrate my mother’s 90 years of life.”
The meal gathers four generations and Tai always reminds her descendants to pay New Year visits to relatives. Pham Thi Anh Tuyet, a Hanoi culinary specialist, said this is the continuation of traditional culture of Hanoi people from generation to generation, including culinary culture. “Gastronomically, Hanoians are very well-known for their meticulousness. Their pickiness with meals is not only during Tet but throughout the year. Hanoians do not eat much but they eat deliciously,” she said.
The quintessence of culinary culture makes the last meal of the year of Hanoi people different from the rest.
T. Huyen