Friday, February 6, 2009


Tet is the new year in Vietnam. Like our new year in the states, it begins at midnight. Being that we were in the country and that they're illegal in Vietnam, there were only a few fireworks when the clock struck twelve. What there was a lot of though was food.

In the Vietnamese culture the families put A TON of food in front of the shrine at their home which honors their deceased loved ones. They cook meals for the deceased and have it sit in front of them for hours. At midnight we then eat the meals and a ton of sweets. I took this picture of Huyen bringing food to the shrine. Eventually, there was literally three times as much as you can see in this picture. Also for perspective, check out that very round basketball looking watermelon. I brought that and it weighed 18.8 pounds.

The next morning we ate the leftover food and a whole bunch of other food we cooked that morning. What's really unique about this picture are three things:
1. Everyone is sitting in chairs. This is the ONLY time of the year the family sits in chairs and at a table. Usually everyone sits Indian-style on the floor upstairs.
2. This is the only time the family eats downstairs. Usually the spot we ate in is covered in ceramics. The night before we moved all the ceramics to another area so there would be room for the table.
3. Huyen told me during Tet is the only time of the year her family can usually all eat together. Her parents work 362 days a year from 5AM till around 9PM. Her father mans the shop in the house and her mother works their stall at a local market.

Let me get back to the food for a second. Being a Jew, I've heard the "Jewish moms make you eat" thing a billion times. Well take it from me, Jewish moms don't have a thing on Vietnamese Dads. Huyen's Dad stuffed me like a pig.

I really can't emphasize how much Mr. Nguyen made me eat. Just to give you an example, he forced me to eat three HUGE bowls of beef noodle soup for breakfast. Usually I eat one bowl of pho for breakfast and I'm full. These bowls at her house were twice as big...and I had THREE OF THEM!

The irony is that her Dad told me on the first day that, "You shouldn't think of yourself as a guest but as a friend. This means you should help yourself because we won't serve you." I told him that was great because I don't like being catered to. Well, it was a good idea in theory. Every time we sat down he proceeded to drop food into my bowl (along with Huyen and her sister). There were two problems with this:

1. I'm a fast eater. Always have been. I ate what I got pretty fast and then they'd drop more into my bowl. If I told them I was full they would say, "You ate very little. You must have more."

2. The day before going to Huyen's I was pretty sick. I had a high temperature and felt really weak. The two times I've felt like this in Vietnam I had a stomach bug. I'm 90% sure I had a stomach bug when I went to the Nguyen's house which meant my appetite was about 50% of what it usually is. I literally felt nauseous the whole weekend I was there...oh, and I had the runs.

That said, the food was amazing and the Nguyen's were fantastic hosts.