Lunar New Year / Tet – Year of the Pig is just right around the corner on February 5th and, for many, our favorite holiday. Like many holidays, it’s a fun and festive time giving us an opportunity to celebrate another glorious year of life. There are many time-honored traditions from giving well-wishes to family and friends, reflecting on life and giving gratitude, to practical matters like organizing the house and buying new clothes. A holiday tradition that is essential is having abundant, festive foods for celebrating Lunar New Year. In this post, I share my favorite Lunar New Year foods.
Foods for Celebrating Lunar New Year – Wrapped Cakes
Lunar New Year foods are quite unique. They are visually appealing with bright bold colors. Some foods are artfully wrapped, for displaying on your holiday table or gift-giving. Square Sticky Rice and Mung Bean Cakes (Banh Chung) are the perfect example. An essential Lunar New Year treat, these savory cakes have a pork and mung bean filling encased with glutinous rice. The cakes are wrapped with banana leaves and then beautifully tied with colorful ribbons or twine. There are many decorative ways to tie the string and the cakes are both gorgeous and delicious.
Another beautifully wrapped savory cake similar to Square Sticky Rice and Mung Bean Cake (Banh Chung) is Sticky Rice and Mung Bean Cakes (Banh Tet). Instead of a square shape, Banh Tet is cylindrical. Less time consuming to make than the square cakes, Sticky Rice and Mung Bean Cakes (Banh Tet) are popular for gift-giving and definitely one of the essential foods for celebrating the Lunar New Year.
A sweet version of the wrapped cakes is Sticky Rice and Banana Cakes (Banh Tet Chuoi). These sweet treats feature small ripe bananas encased in glutinous rice. The bananas turn a gorgeous rosy-pink color when cooked. Sticky Rice and Banana Cakes (Banh Tet Chuoi) are tasty snack cakes if you love sticky rice but enjoy a sweeter taste and fruity flavor.
Foods for Celebrating Lunar New Year – Meat Dishes
Meat dishes for celebrating Lunar New Year are abundant and varied. Braised Pork and Eggs (Thit Kho Trung) is an essential dish. Marinated pork and eggs are cooked until tender and is so hearty and delicious. My mom made this dish every year for Tet and I remember the wonderful savory aroma of this dish while it was cooking. For me, this is a must-have Lunar New Year food.
Another meaty delight is Steamed Pork Roll (Cha Lua), a delicious mildly-seasoned pork paste wrapped in banana leaves and then gently steamed. The Steamed Pork Roll is usually cut into small pieces and served as appetizers or side dishes.
This Jellied Pork (Thit Dong) dish is really unique looking and so yummy. The dish is a jelly of marinated pork and vegetables set inside decorative molds. Served cold, you enjoy the Jellied Pork with hot white rice and Pickled Mustard Greens (Dua Cai Chua). This meat treat is scrumptious with wonderfully savory flavor and silky texture.
Crispy Roast Pork (Thit Heo Quay) is a favorite holiday dish. The bubbly, super crispy skin atop juicy marinated pork is flavorful and delicious. This dish always looks so beautiful on the holiday table. Roast an extra piece of pork for after the holidays because this dish stores well and reheats beautifully in a toaster oven. The skin gets even crunchier after refrigerating.
Foods for Celebrating Lunar New Year – Side Dishes
A Lunar New Year feast wouldn’t be complete without the essential side dishes to compliment all the amazing foods. The dishes below are pickles, soups and salads.
Dried Carrot and Radish Pickles (Dua Mon) are deliciously pungent dried vegetables marinated in fish sauce. Deliciously briny, these condiments are enjoyed with Square Sticky Rice and Mung Bean Cakes (Banh Chung) and Sticky Rice and Mung Bean Cakes (Banh Tet).
Stuffed Bitter Melon Soup (Canh Kho Qua), literally translated, the name of this soup (canh) is “hardship passed”, meaning a “hardship has passed”. A symbolic food for Lunar New Year, when enjoying this dish, we are celebrating the passing of any hardships.
Pickled Mustard Greens (Dua Cai Chua) are popular pickles served with savory meat dishes like Jellied Pork (Thit Dong). These deliciously tart pickles are made through the natural fermentation process. Plan in advance as the pickles take 5-6 days to ferment fully.
Use the Pickled Mustard Greens to make Beef Shank with Pickled Mustard Greens (Canh Dua Cai Bap Bo), a delicious and hearty soup with comforting flavors. No meal is complete without soup and this hearty dish is a guaranteed winner.
Pickled Bean Sprouts (Dua Gia) is another tasty pickle and compliments many savory dishes like Braised Pork and Eggs (Thit Kho Trung). It’s an easy-to-make pickle with beans sprouts, shredded carrots and chives in a small vinegar solution.
This is one of my favorite Lunar New Year foods as a child: Sticky Rice Coated with Mung Bean (Xoi Vo). It features plump glutinous rice infused with sweetened coconut milk. It’s a tasty and versatile dish and can be enjoyed with any savory dish. I make mountains of Sticky Rice Coated with Mung Bean (Xoi Vo) every year because it always goes so fast. It is everyone’s favorite.
This Cured / Fermented Pork (Nem Chua) dish is wonderful small bite to enjoy with a cold beverage or serve as an appetizer. My recipe is a twist on the traditional recipe. Instead of using raw meat, I use cooked ham. It’s awesome and I hope you give this delicious dish a try!
Foods for Celebrating Lunar New Year – Sweet Treats
Lunar New Year would not be complete without some sweet treats and tidbits to enjoy. Who doesn’t love sweet treats and during the Lunar New Year, there’s a plethora of options!
At the top of the Lunar New Year dessert list is this quintessential sweet treat: Glutinous Rice Balls in Ginger Syrup (Che Troi Nuoc), a warm dessert of glutinous rice balls filled with mung bean in a sweet ginger sauce and topped with coconut cream sauce. If you can only make one dessert for Lunar New Year, this is the one! 🙂
Sweet Mung Bean Pudding (Che Tao Soan / Che Dau Xanh) is a thick, gooey dessert made of peeled split mung bean, tapioca starch and sugar. The coconut sauce topping is optional and a wonderful addition. One of the best things about making this dessert at home is you can adjust the sweetness to your preference. Serve small bowls of this delicious pudding hot or cold. Pair with Sticky Rice Coated with Mung Bean (Xoi Vo) for a delicious combination.
Another sweet treat featuring mung bean is Mung Bean Pudding (Che Kho), a thick pudding of puréed mung bean set into a soft cake. Enjoyed as finger foods, these delicious cakes are wonderful to serve to guests, as snack cakes or a light dessert.
As holiday festivities can last an entire month, foods with a longer shelf-life like this Candied Orange Peels (Mut Vo Cam) are especially popular. These Candied Orange Peels are sweet and a tad bitter, a tantalizing combination. The recipe is super easy to make with just 2-ingredients. These candies are wonderful treat to serve to visiting guests with a hot cup of tea.
This recipe for Chewy Sesame Peanut Candy (Keo Me Dau Phong) is a candy dish favorite for Lunar New Year. I like to individually wrap the candies in parchment paper or food wrap to make them to easier to enjoy and store. They also make awesome little candies for gift-bags.
Another popular sweet treat is Peanut Candy (Keo Dau Phong), a scrumptious brittle candy. It’s deliciously crunchy and super easy to make. Have these handy for snacking and enjoy with your favorite hot beverage.
A staple sweet treat is Candied Lotus Seeds (Mut Hat Sen), a delicious confection of boiled lotus seeds coated with crystallized sugar. Sugary good and delicious, these candies are wonder for filling-up your candy jars and bowls and having ready for snack time.
What other foods for celebrating Lunar New Year do you enjoy? Please feel free to share your favorites in the comments below. Happy Lunar New Year! Chuc Mung Nam Moi!