I remembered the bewilderment I felt, during the first few months of my stay in the Netherlands, when a Dutch friend revealed to me that going to a café was very different from going to a coffee shop. A café is that place we all know, where you can enjoy a good latte (sometimes not so good) and relax in a comfy sofa. A coffee shop for the Dutch is something else entirely – it’s where you buy weed.
For some reason, that reminds me of the coffee culture in Vietnam. “Wanna go grab a coffee?” (“Đi cà phê không?”) is almost like a catching phrase for us Vietnamese, but I can count on one hand the number of times I actually order a coffee when I go out with my friends. We say it so often, whenever we meet someone new, or want to catch up with our friends, or to woo that cute guy we have been staring across the classroom for some times now.
But “go grab a coffee” is not really about the coffee itself (never mind the fact that we have one of the best coffee in the world). No, it’s an excuse. It’s something used by Vietnamese when they want to have a chat that would last a few hours, jumping from one place to another. When I go to a café with my friends, I rarely order a coffee – I’m not a big fan of that bitter and dark liquid that so many people swear by.
Does it matter? The coffee is not the point
Vietnam as a nation is obsessed with coffee. We farm the beans, we ground them, we invent our own ways of drinking coffee. When I go out in the Netherlands, I’m always greeted with the same menu selections – Espresso, Latte, Cappuccino, Macchiato. Times like that, I miss my country’s wide array of coffee. Dark, brown, iced, or Egg Coffee, Yogurt Coffee, Coconut Coffee. Vietnamese people’s creativity with food is endless, and it is reflected in the way we drink coffee, and our numerous variations of it.
You can also say we are obsessed with coffee in the sense that we are perpetually out at a café every other day (or every day, for some people). The past few years have witnessed the bloom of milk tea establishments all over the country. The street near my house now has more than ten milk tea places. However, cafés still maintain their unique standing in the Vietnamese culture. More pop up every day, with unique designs and interesting drinks menu. People go to café for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and through the night.
What do we do there, you wonder? It’s not always about enjoying a good cup of coffee. We’re catching up with our friends, we’re sharing cute cat pictures, we’re working on the next big report.
“Wanna go grab a coffee?” is about quality time with friends and pouring our hearts out over some issues. Who knew that dark, bitter liquid has such power?
So the next time a Vietnamese friend of yours ask you “Wanna go grab a coffee?”, think about the implications behind those simple words. Think about the fact that us Vietnamese tend to be rather round-about and we revel in lacing our true intentions between innocent invitations. Don’t think about how you detest coffee, because you can get anything else in the world aside from coffee, and think about how much you will enjoy your time together with your friend.
Looking for recommendations? If you’re in Hanoi, head over to Hoan Kiem Lake. On Dinh Tien Hoang street, on the second floor of a bag shop, there’s this little nest called Dinh which has the most heavenly egg coffee and a fantastic view of the lake. It’s a perfect blend of old Hanoi charm, good drinks and a chill environment.
Tết Nguyên Đán or Tết Holiday has a very special position in the hearts of every Vietnamese no matter where they are. As the most important holiday in Vietnamese culture, it is held on the first days of the year in Lunar calendar, usually falling into February in solar calendar. Although Tết is traditionally a 3-day celebration, it actually involves preparations in the week(s) prior. Starting from Tết Táo Quân/Tết Ông Công – Ông Táo or Kitchen God Worship Day (December 23rd of the Lunar Calendar,) the atmosphere becomes festive and jolly when everyone rushes to prepare for the ritual and Tết.
It is of an important matter for Vietnamese people to clean their houses every Tết holiday. The act of cleaning and tidying the house at the beginning of the New Year is a mark point for a fresh start. We clean our houses to exorcise the evil spirits out of our doors and also to welcome good blessings to the whole family.
1-2/Buy new clothes
Buying new clothes as gifts for the youngsters of the household is one of many beautiful acts to celebrate the start of New Year. As Vietnamese people in the past used to endure starvation and poverty, the children were not given enough clothes to wear throughout the year. Almost the only chance for them to have new clothes is the occasion of Tết, when their parents spend most of the savings for the family to have the best New Year celebration, which includes the buying of clothes for their lovely children.
One of the most common act of celebrating is of course eating. And in order to eat, we need food. The preparation usually starts very early before the arrival of Tết, so that during Tết, we do not need to cook much. Another reason for this early preparation is that during the first three days of Tết, the market is usually closed.
Depending on each region and also each household, there are some traditional Tết food that should be prepared in advance. Here are some references for you.
Many customs and traditions are practiced by Vietnamese people to celebrate a new year on its first three days. We usually go back to our homeland, visit our ancestors’ grave and pray at the pagodas to receive good fortune and blessings. Besides, we visit our relatives, teachers, friends to dine and have fun with them, while children receive lucky money. This is the perfect opportunity for reunions and gatherings, because only at this time, most people have free time to spend with their beloved ones talking and sharing their lives to make up for the time of separation.
Because of increasing demands, many means of public transportation like planes, trains, long-route buses, etc. offer tickets with doubled or even tripled price compared to that of ordinary days. Therefore, those who want to celebrate Tết at their homelands must book tickets several months in advance.
3/Typical New Year Food
Bánh chưng (Chưng cake)
Bánh chưng is the most common food eaten during Tết. Originated from the North of Vietnam, this dish has many times proved to be more than just a piece of cuisine. Bánh chưng is a national representative, a part of tradition that all of us inherited from our ancestors from the distant past.
Bánh tét (Tét cake)
As paralleled to bánh chưng in the north, bánh tét is in the south. This the representative of the south, sweeter and more like a dessert. This dish can convert the truism in the souls of the makers of it, as well as of all the Vietnamese in the south of Vietnam.
Nem chua (Fermented pork roll)
Nem chua is not only famous in the center of Vietnam, but throughout the nation. People from everyone area of the country enjoy nem chua, for its sour but sweet taste that none other dishes has to offer.
For further information about the three special dishes of Vietnam, please refer to these articles:
During any Tết activity, food is served to increase the enjoyment of each event. Here are some popular types of food specialised for this particular purpose:
4-1/Mứt (Candied fruit)
Candied fruit, also known as crystallized fruit or glacé fruit, has existed since the 14th century. Whole fruit, smaller pieces of fruit, or pieces of peel, are placed in heated sugar syrup, which absorbs the moisture from within the fruit and eventually preserves it. Depending on size and type of fruit, this process of preservation can take from several days to several months. This process allows the fruit to retain its quality for a year.
In Vietnam, mứt is most loved by children, especially during Tết. It’s healthy, natural and tastes amazing. Lots of adults still enjoy it too. The most popular fruit being candied is coconut, ginger, etc.
4-2/Khô (dried food)
Khô mực (Dried shredded squid): a dried, shredded, seasoned, seafood product, made from squid or cuttlefish, commonly found in coastal Asian countries, Russia, and Hawaii. The snack is also referred to as dried shredded cuttlefish.
Khô bò (Beef jerky): a type of jerky, a lean meat that has been trimmed of fat, cut into strips, and then dried to prevent spoilage. The resulting jerky from the above methods would be a salty and/or savory snack. However, sometimes a sweet or semi-sweet recipe is used, with sugar being a major ingredient in that variation. Jerky is ready-to-eat and needs no additional preparation. It can be stored for months without refrigeration.
4-3/Hạt khô (Dried seeds)
The seeds are usually cleaned, heated and then roasted for eating purpose. There are many types of seed which can be eaten, for example dried roasted watermelon seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds,… We Vietnamese love to crack the seeds and eat them, just for fun.
5/New Year Games
As Tết is also a holiday and a festival, many traditional games are carried out during this occasion. The games are not only for children, but also for the adults to reminisce back into their childhood.
Tết is usually initiated in February, which is the season of winter in spring, but still the weather is still chilly in the North of Vietnam. Therefore, in the years with warm weather, some rural areas hold the game of catching ducks in the pond. People choose a deep pond, or a pond with high shore, or use a grid or bamboo stick to strap around the pond. The number of players varies on the width of the pond, usually from two to four players maximum. Two large ducks will be dropped down into the pond with for the players to try to catch. The players of this game are not blindfolded but are required to have good agility and swimming techniques.
This game usually takes place on a large grass field. The players is divided into pairs. Each pair will take turn to join the field. One person of each pair will be blindfolded, and have to catch the other person without getting out of the drawn circle. The person who acts as the goat must sometimes makes noise so that the blindfolded person can know where they are. This game is only for fun, and usually it’s the children who enjoy playing it the most.
Wrestling is a beautiful performance of Vietnamese people’s martial arts spirit. The game is an opportunity for the strong wrestlers of the villages to compete with each other to find the winner of the championship. This is the chance for people to show off their strength and also to strengthen the bonds between villagers and villages.
Đánh bài (Card games)
Tếtis the season of gambling. For new year’s luck, people are more willing to bet their money on something that they usually don’t. Sometimes we just play cards for fun, with only a small amount of money between the family and relatives, for the sake of the long lasting tradition of the nation.
Tiến lên(literally: “go forward”): also known as Vietnamese cards, Thirteen, Killer 13, “‘Bomb”‘, is a Vietnamese shedding-type card game devised in Southern China and Vietnam. It is similar to Zheng Shangyou, which uses a specially printed deck of cards, Big Two, and other “climbing” card games popular in many parts of Asia. Tiến lên, considered the national card game of Vietnam, is a game intended and best for four players.
Bài cào: This is one of the simplest, quickest, and most dependent on the element of chance. This game played with two or more people, the number of people is unlimited but it must be made sure each person has three cards.
Bài tấn (Durak): a card game that is popular in post-Soviet states. The object of the game is to get rid of all one’s cards. At the end of the game, the last player with cards in their hand is the durak. Co-op is not allowed in durak. This game is popular in Vietnam.
Phỏm or Tá lả: A Vietnamese card games, with 2-4 players.
Xì dách (Chinese Blackjack): Traditionally, most non-hardcore gamblers will play some form of gambling during the Chinese New Year as it is believed the new year brings in fresh new luck, and Chinese Blackjack is one of the most popular games to be played during the new year.
Xì tố (Poker)
Bầu Cua Tôm Cá (Gourd – Crab – Shrimp – Fish)
The game Bầu Cua Tôm Cá is a Vietnamese gambling game using three dice.The six sides of the dice, instead of showing one to six pips, have pictures of a fish, a prawn, a crab, a rooster, a calabash gourd, and a stag. Players place wagers on a board that has the six pictures, betting on which pictures will appear. If one die corresponds with a bet, the bettor receives the same amount as their bet. If two dice correspond with a bet, the bettor receives two times their money. If three dice correspond with a bet, the bettor receives three times their money. For instance, if one were to place $3 on fish, and the dealer rolls 2 fish and 1 stag, then the bettor would receive $6. Bầu Cua Tôm Cá is essentially the Vietnamese variation of Hoo Hey How (Fish-Prawn-Crab) played in China, the dice game Crown and Anchor played by British sailors, or chuck-a-luck played in America.
We usually play this game during Tết, for fun.
These are a few of many customs and traditions practiced during Vietnamese Tết Holiday, as we are celebrating the New Year and also the cultural beauty of our country. If you want to know more about this special event, you can look through our other articles discussing Tết. Happy New Year.
If you have any questions about this article or are in need for assistance about travelling in Vietnam or just anything at all, please do not hesitate to contact us, and we are sure to be thrilled to help.
Teachers’ Day is a special day for the appreciation of teachers’ contributions to the education of a country. Vietnamese Teacher’s Day (‘Ngày Nhà giáo Việt Nam’) is held on the 20th of November annually.
How Did It Begin?
In July 1946, an international organization of educators was established in Paris, namely the International Federation Union of Teachers (Fédération Internationale Syndicale des Enseignants – FISE).
In 1949, at a conference in Warsaw (the capital of Poland), the International Federation Union Teachers issued a 15-chapter of “Charter of Teachers” with the main content of protecting the rights of teaching and teachers, the responsibility and position of the act of teaching and the teachers.
The Vietnam Education Federation, a member of FISE since 1953, decided at a meeting of the FISE in 1957 in Warsaw to choose the 20th of November 1958 as the International Charter of Teachers Day. This date was first held throughout the North of Vietnam. Years later, it was held in many liberated areas in the South of Vietnam. When Vietnam was finally unified, this day has become the traditional day of education in Vietnam. On September 28, 1982, the Council of Ministers (now the Government) issued Decision No. 167-HDBT to establish November 20th as the Vietnamese Teachers’ Day.
The Celebration of Vietnamese Teachers’ Day
On the Teacher’s Day, many competitions and performances are prepared by the students throughout Vietnam to show their appreciation for the teachers on the school’s stage. These performances include singing, traditional dancing, contemporary dancing, orchestra performing, etc. Sometimes the school performances become more exciting with the presence of famous singers, some of whom are former students of the schools.
Besides, the giving of flowers (red roses) and presents are very common among students of all ages. Young children in kindergartens and primary schools are often taught to make little presents such as cards or flowers to give their teachers. Some of junior or senior students offer flowers and presents to their teachers at class, but some visit their teachers’ homes to express their appreciation and honor for the teachers’ roles in their lives. Some students also organize a field trip with their teachers and classmates. Even former students set aside their busy work to pay respect to their former teachers on this special day.
Vietnamese Teacher’s Day is one of the most important national dates in Vietnam. There is a common saying passed down from generation to generation – “Uống nước nhớ nguồn” (“When you eat a fruit, think of the man who planted the tree.”) Our understanding and view on the world are mainly affected and supported by the knowledge given by the teachers. Therefore, their contributions should be honored and remembered for the rest of our lives, even when we are not students anymore.
In some days before and on the date November 20th, you can notice the special atmosphere surrounding the schools from North to South. Red roses paint the school with the color of love, and especially, the happiness and excitement faces of both teachers and students truly fill the school with LOVE.
Teachers’ Days in Other Countries
Origin: Started by a group of Red Cross youth team members who visited their sick ex-teachers in hospitals.
Activities: teachers are usually presented with carnations by their students and graduates.
Date: full moon day (Purnima) in the Hindu month of Ashadha (June–July) and 5 September
Origin: The word Guru is derived from two words, gu (darkness or ignorance) and ru (the remover of that darkness.) Gurus, the persons who remove the darkness of our ignorance, are believed by many to be the most necessary part of life.
Activities: On this day, disciples offer pooja (worship) or pay respect to their Guru (spiritual guide). Indian academics celebrate this day by thanking their teachers as well as remembering past teachers and scholars.
Date: On Tuesday during Teacher Appreciation Week, which takes place in the first full week of May.
Origin: The NEA and its affiliates continued to observe Teacher Day on the first Tuesday in March until 1985, when the National PTA established Teacher Appreciation Week in the first full week of May. The NEA Representative Assembly then voted to make the Tuesday of that week National Teacher Day. As of 4 November 1976, 6 November was adopted as Teachers’ Day in the U.S. state of Massachusetts. Currently, Massachusetts sets the first Sunday of June as its own Teachers’ Day annually.
Activities: the activities on this day varies between schools. There could be performances prepared by students for the teachers or small handmade gifts.
As you can see, there are so many different ways to celebrate Teacher’s Day all over the world, but they all have one thing in common: the great appreciation towards the amazing teachers, people who are working hard every day to bring about the best in all of us.
If you have any problem with travelling in Vietnam or any question about Vietnam at all, please don’t hesitate to contact us for more assistance. We would be thrilled to help.
Ancestor worship ceremony is one popular custom which commemorates the deceased in Eastern countries such as Japan, South Korea, China and Vietnam. The procedure of the ceremony can be varied from country to country, but the purpose remains the same which is described in the motto “When you eat a fruit, think of the man who planted the tree.“
The place of worship is usually an altar in private residence (if your family is settled far away from your original hometown), or a spacious worship hall built in a house’s area (normally that house is the one where your clan initially settled down). To understand thoroughly this meaningful custom, instead of researching boring documentary books; you can watch well-known films with Asian background (the most famous one is Walt Disney’s ‘Mulan’) or simply check out this article published by Vietnam Track.
The Origin of the Ceremony:
The worship ceremony originates from the belief that the souls of the dead still wander in this world and have an influence on the lives of their offspring. Vietnamese people assume that death is not the end, although the body diminishes but the immortal soul often remain staying on the altar to be near their relatives, watch over and assist them when they have difficulties and be delighted when they get lucky, encourage them to do good deeds as well as punish them when committing sinful acts. Therefore, they would avoid committing sinful acts because of the fear that it would bother their ancestors’ souls. Sometimes the living would ask themselves what would the deceased do if they were in this situation.
Besides, Vietnamese people believe that what the deceased needed in real world is also what they would need in another world. Because of the connection between the visible and invisible world, the worship ceremony is a mutual ground for these two worlds to entwine. That’s why Vietnamese burn paper objects (like money, house, car, clothes, shoes, etc.) for the deceased to use in their other world.
The Procedure of the Ceremony:
A typical aspect of worshipping ancestors is the Memorial Day, or ‘Lễ Húy Kỵ’ to remember the late family members. It is held annually exactly on the day the person passed away based on lunar calendar. On this day, families will place a proper meal with joss paper on the altar, ignite 3 joss-sticks and pray silently; after the joss-sticks burn out completely, the families pray again and then burn the joss paper and take the meal out of the altar to eat, which is called “taking the blessings of the deceased.”
Simultaneously, the deceased’s family also invite their friends and the deceased’s close friends to pray for the dead and after that have a meal with the family. The meal can be small or big depending on the financial situation of the host, or based on the dead’s inquiries. In the Northern part of Vietnam, this ceremony is prepared more sophisticatedly and ritualistically than the Southern Vietnamese because of its historical ancient nature.
In the North, on memorial day everyone will gather together and talk about the dead’s memories. The duration of the gathering is not over 2 hours; everyone will go back to his/her home after the meal is finished. As for the South, the topics of the discussion would extend to career, family, culture and even politics; therefore, the time of gathering would be all day.
In addition, there are some differences between metropolitan and countryside areas, farmers in countryside have flexible and easygoing schedule so the Memorial Day is held exactly on the day which the person passed away; in contrast with the metropolitan area, due to the nature of industrial and service occupations, the host will invite all the guests for the ceremony at late afternoons on weekends so that it would not affect the guests’ working schedules and transportation.
Besides worshipping ancestors, we also worship the Gods (the God of Land, the God of Wealth, the God of Kitchen, etc.) and sacred creatures (Dragon, Southern Lion, Tortoise, Phoenix) on other altars in our residences.
If you have any problem travelling in Vietnam, please don’t hesitate to contact us for more assistance. We would be thrilled to help.
Writer: Long Bui
Translators: Diem Nguyen, Nhat Nguyen.
Every year in August (Lunar Calendar,) when the Moon reaches its fullness, it is the time when every Vietnamese can go back to be a kid, setting aside work and spending more time with their beloved ones. Also, it is regarded as the children’s festival which is always the festival that the children are looking forward to the most.
I/ Family Reunion
1/Appreciating the Moon
The round shape of the full moon represents fullness and reunion. That’s why people usually come back home on this day to spend time with their family. For those who are living far away and cannot make the way home, appreciating the Moon brings the feeling as if they were there with their families, because the Moon is absolutely the same one no matter where they are.
2/ Enjoying Mooncakes
On this special day, family members sit together in the open air with the full moon above, talk and share stories with one another, and enjoy a piece of mooncakes with a cup of tea. The cool night seems to be warmer and warmer.
Typically, mooncakes measure around 5 to 10 centimeters across and up to 5 centimeters deep. Most mooncakes have a pastry skin enveloping a sweet and dense filling. There are two main types: baked cake (Bánh Nướng) and chilled cake (Bánh Dẻo). Their particular recipes result in the great discrepancy in the crusts and the compositions of fillings.
II/ Children’s Festival
Each time Tet Trung Thu (Mid-Autumn Festival) approaches, it is always greatly welcomed by children. Because on this day, they can enjoy pieces of sweet mooncakes, play with red lanterns, watch lion dances and wear paper masks.
1/ Red lanterns
The moment when the night falls down is the time for the festival to start. Vietnamese children will hold a lantern in one hand and walk with their friends in a small and lovely parade on the streets. The night suddenly becomes brighter with the tiny lights from each lantern and also more joyful with the laughter and excitement of the children.
Traditionally, the lanterns, as a toy and ornament, symbolized fertility, sending a wish for the sun’s light and warmth to return after winter. They were created in the shapes of natural things, myths, and other familiar figures in daily lives. But today they have come to symbolize the festival also.
Unfortunately, handcrafted lantern making industry has declined in modern times due to the availability of mass-produced plastic lanterns, which often depict popular characters such as Pokémon’s Pikachu, Disney characters, SpongeBob SquarePants, and Hello Kitty.
2/ Lion dances
At some places, lion dances also contribute to the cheerful atmosphere of the festival with the skillful movements of the lion figures and happy smiling moon-face of Ong Dia (The Lord Earth.)
The performance will first start with some small activities led by adults, then further excitement rises when drumbeats ring out. The smaller kids shrink back and the older ones run forward as a mythical lion bursting into their courtyard with its giant head and sinuous body controlled by many skillful dancers. The most astonishing session is the lion with its open mouth and protruding eyes approaching to the crowd gradually, making the kids scream and laugh at their antics. The happy smiling moon-face Lord Earth, called Ong Dia in Vietnamese, dances around the lions and urges the people surrounding to involve in their dances.
3/ Paper mask
In addition, another traditional toy plays an irreplaceable part in the childhood of Vietnamese children – MẶT NẠ GIẤY BỒI (Paper Mask)
In the past, grandparents and parents often made paper masks for their children in Mid-Autumn festival. Paper masks are created in various interesting shapes like animals and funny faces. The main materials for these masks are paper, cassava flour boiled into glue, paint and brush.
Today, the job of making paper masks is still maintained in some provinces in Northern Vietnam, where paper masks are a cherished and endeared tradition among the locals. During the night of the festival, the scenery of children wearing paper masks and holding lanterns while parading along the streets is sure the most beautiful image of Mid-Autumn Festival in Vietnam.