Tết traditions

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Every year around this time, the Western world struggles to shake-off its post New Year's hangover.

While they tighten their belts and hunker down for winter, Vietnam gears up for the biggest feast event of the year.

Tết, or the Lunar New Year, falls some time in late January and early February.

During the ancient holiday, everyone puts aside their business to get together, eat well and take it easy.

Poor folks relax flood out of the cities to return to their country homes for perhaps their only vacation of the year.

Housewives and mothers from every nook and cranny of the country will roll up their sleeves and prepare the traditional offerings for the annual return of family and friends.

Southern pork belly

Down in the sweet south, meaty pork belly, greasy coconut meat and boiled eggs are married in a delicious stew.

WHERE TO GO

One can go to the following restaurants in HCMC to enjoy the traditional delicacies:

* Vietnam House
93-95 Dong Khoi Street, District 1

* Minh Duc
35 Ton That Tung Street, District 1

* Cay Tre
37 Le Quy Don Street, District 3

* Huong Xua
43 Ly Tu Trong Street, District 1

The rich troika of ingredients are marinated with salt, pepper, sugar, fish sauce and chopped garlic.

The eggs are usually pricked with a pin to allow the flavors to seep inside. Star anise is often added to the mix to provide a distinct holiday flavor.

The whole dish simmers for up to four hours, yielding a delightfully rich stew. You know this dish is good and done when the fat in the striated pork hunks melts in the mouth.

The dish is served up with pickled bean sprout and steamed rice.

Central sour shrimp

The cooks of Vietnam's notoriously spicy central region during Tết.

The week before the holiday arrives, families set to work cleaning and trimming shrimp for the specially-piquant hot and sour Hue-style prawns.

The cleaned critters are soaked in rice wine, chili, garlic, ginger and salt. Julienned papaya and galanga strips are sometimes added to the mix for an added crispiness.

The jar is left in the sun for around three days and then fermented in a cool, dry place for a further five to seven days.

The pungent, pink and red prawns are a force to be reckoned with, when finished. The sour shrimp are often served with boiled pork, sliced green banana and rice paper.

Northern jellied meat

The north's reputation for savory, muted flavors is reflected most acutely in its famed Tết delicacy: jellied meat.

Pork leg, chicken and lean pork paste are essentially boiled unrecognizable in a pot with mushrooms, carrots, white radishes and onion.

The mix is then chilled (not unlike French terrine or head cheese) and served up with picked mustard greens, hot rice and chili fish sauce.

Bare bones versions of the dish may contain little more than meat and flavor powder. The crucial ingredient - indeed, the thing that holds it all together - is pig skin.

Green Tết

Each regional household sets to work pickling a veggie antidote to their traditional Tết meat entrée.

A variety of traditional pickles plays a crucial role in bringing off a successful Tết feast.

Pickled bean sprouts, mustard greens and scallion heads provide an excellent counter-punch to the greasy, meaty monotony.

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