Get your Lunar New Year off to a sweet start by embracing the Vietnamese tradition of Mut Tet. Known as Tet Nguyen Dan in Vietnam, the celebrations are held on the Lunar New Year. Tet is celebrated as a time for visiting family and friends, and as such Vietnamese households would always have a platter of mut tet at the ready.
Much like Malaysia has its yu sheng, Japan has osechi ryori, and Korea has yang jang pi, Vietnamese mut tet is a collection of ingredients that have been specially chosen for their symbolism. But, while yu sheng, yang jang pi, and osechi ryori are savoury creations, mut tet, or ‘tet jam’ is an assortment of sweet foods, often served with tea.
It’s not just the ingredients of the mut tet that are symbolic. Its assortment of sweet treats is prepared in the colours of red, gold, and white, which the Vietnamese considers to be auspicious.
When you mention the word ‘jam’ to a westerner, chances are they’ll think of the fruit spread for their morning toast. For the Vietnamese, ‘jam’ is an assortment of dried, candied fruits, made using a sugar syrup to preserve and enhance the natural sweetness of pineapple, kumquat, mango, orange rind, and coconut. All of those golden hues are sure to bring good fortune.
Take slices of pumpkin, sweet potato and carrot, boil them in a sticky sugar syrup, and you’ve turned your favourite vegetables into sugary treats. Roots such as ginger and lotus root can also be given the sugar syrup treatment.
The Vietnamese like to paint the town red during Tet – quite literally. Red is symbolic of good fortune, so you’ll see crimson lanterns, scarlet envelopes filled with money, and ruby-hued accessories throughout Asia during Lunar New Year. On the mut tet platter, you’ll also spot melon seeds that have been dyed red. But before you scarf down a handful of seeds, you need to crack them open first. To do this, hold the seed vertically between your teeth, then slowly bite down until the shell cracks and peel back the shell to reveal the sweet seed within. Slightly easier on the teeth are the creamy coloured roasted pumpkin seeds, which are symbolic of growth.
Another Tet staple that will induce a sugar rush is the candied nuts, including caramel-glazed peanuts and candied water chestnuts, which have a crystallised exterior that contains a moist, juicy flesh within.
Take a trip down memory lane by grabbing a handful of cellophane-wrapped lollies from the mut tet platter. These sticky, oozy sweets are flavoured with custard apple or tamarind and are then shaped into a toffee-like lolly that will bring back memories of your childhood.
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