I attended a soup swap over the weekend and Carolyn Phillips, author of All Under Heaven and the source of a great Chinese scallion bread recipe, walked into the party carrying a handbag in the shape of a chicken. I remarked about her clever choice of accessory given that January 28 will be the first day of the Year of the Rooster. Unbeknownst to me until I looked up the bag online that Carolyn’s “Hen Bag” turned out to be for real and you can order one from Amazon to arrive by this weekend!
The purse and her mirth reminded me that the Lunar New Year is about fun, relaxation, and renewal. It’s about life balance, which I need these days given my work schedule and the political and social tensions in the air. So with a few days left to close out the last lunar year, this is my gameplan for getting ready to welcome in the Year of the Rooster!
Check my Chinese horoscope. Though I’ll be turning 48 in a few weeks, my February 9, 1969 birthdate puts me in the Year of the Monkey. Regardless of your Chinese astrological animal, you can get a forecast for the Year of the Rooster. Jump to this Chinese astrology page, type in your birthdate and you can then see your astrological animal and 2017 forecast. The astrological stuff is always good and bad and I check it out for curiosity and fun.
Clean the house. I’ll concentrate on the kitchen and my office. My husband already vacuumed.
Put up decorations. We put away our Christmas décor a few weeks ago and now it’s time to pull out the gold-and-red themed stuff from the closet and distribute them around the house!
Find blossoms, blooms and other plant life. We’ve had a lot of rain in Northern California but I’ll do my best to source a few pots of blooming chrysanthemums and blossoming branches of forsythia and such to put around the house. The blooms signal the coming of Spring and rebirth. My dad used to drive around and snip off blossoming branches he spotted (he’d ask the homeowner first!). In Vietnam, people also make artificial ones for sale.
Pots of kumquats are nice too. Above is an Instagram photo from my friend Van Cong Tu in Hanoi.
Replenish the tangerine supply. Tangerines are plentiful this time of year and a symbol of good luck. The orange color brightens up your spirit and mood. It’s nice to have the stems and leaves attached but not necessary.
Cook New Year food. I’m keeping things simple this weekend but one thing I’m doing on Friday is make banh chung (“bahn choong”) Tet Sticky Rice cakes. The recipe is in Into the Vietnamese Kitchen. A couple of years ago, I posted detailed step-by-step photos on how to form banh chung.
Do you have to be Viet to make banh chung well? No. Last year, a non-Vietnamese woman used my recipe and photos to make banh chung herself. It was a most excellent cooking adventure with me standing by to trouble shoot.
Whether you buy or make banh chung, make sure to fry some up!
I’ll also be making up some other foods like Viet charcuterie (leftovers will go into banh mi) and maybe a lucky dumpling or two (see recipe links below), and definitely a pot of chicken pho since it’s the Year of the Rooster.
There are usually pickled vegetables during Vietnamese Tet since pickles are fabulous make-ahead food. In Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, there's a pickled shallot recipe on page 195 (they go well with gin on the rocks, too), but for Tet, my family also makes the tangy mixed vegetable pickle on page 194 (with cauliflower, carrot, and red bell pepper).
Wear something new. On Saturday, I’ll wear some article of new clothing to welcome in the new year. (Shopping is part of the Lunar New Year!) Some people get new haircuts or hairdos. Up to you how to spiff yourself up.
Receive a Lunar New Year blessing. Tet would not be sewn up if I didn’t do this on the morning of the new year (Saturday, January 28, 2017): make my husband knock on our front door, I open the door and greet him, then he says a new year blessing for our family and home. (He goes out the back door first.) The idea is that the first person to enter your house will signal the luck for the coming year so you want some insurance that the luck will come in as something positive.
I’ll also call my dad, wish him happy new year, and he’ll have a Tet blessing to recite over the phone. I may be too old for red envelope money but I do want my Tet blessing and greetings.
If you’re looking for a Tet greeting, some options include:
- Chúc mừng năm mới = Happy New Year (super popular and simple)
- Sống lâu trăm tuổi = May you live long for 100 years (most appropriate for children to say to older people, especially when they’re gifted red envelope money)
- Vạn sự như ý = May many things happen according to your wishes (one of my favorites)
Chúc mừng năm mới. Vạn sự như ý!
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