Know your Tet foods better

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The old adage of "everything in moderation" is good advice for Tet gluttons, herbalists say.

Tet, more than any other Vietnamese festival, is an opportunity for the family to get together, and enjoy dishes that were once made particularly for the festival. The traditional Tet foods include: Bánh chưng (square sticky-rice cake); bánh tét (sticky-rice cake in a cylindrical shape); củ kiệu (pickled scallion heads); dưa món(carrot, beet, fresh papaya and fish sauce); thịt kho nưá»›c dừa braised pork with eggs and coconut milk); and mứt (sugar-coated fruit). Since festivals are seen as a license to gorge, it's rare that we keep tabs on our diet during the Tet days, and the fact that it is a spring festival encourages us to observe no restraint. This can, of course, lead to indigestion and more serious health problems. It is good, therefore, to get to know our Tet foods a little better.

Bánh chưng and bánh tét

Made with glutinous rice, green or black beans, pork and pepper, these cakes are the most important Lunar New Year dishes. The dishes have very nutritious ingredients, an original flavor and can keep for a long time. From their wrapping and the way they are made to their ingredients, which, apart from those mentioned earlier, can also include egg, dried shrimp, Chinese sausage, lotus seed, peanut and shiitake mushrooms, everything has medicinal qualities, says herbalist Dinh Cong Bay of the Ho Chi Minh City Medical Association.

They maintain harmony between the positive and the negative, thus strengthening health, helping blood circulate well and preventing diseases. Green and black beans, which have cold properties, cool the body and relieve toxins. The dishes meet modern nutritional requirements as well, Bay says.

However, consuming large quantities of bánh chưng or bánh tét may not be a very wise thing to do. They are heavy in kcal or energy. If they are fried and/or mixed with coconut, the calorie intake will be even higher, says Dr. Nguyen Thi Minh Kieu of the HCMC Food and Nutrition Association.

Củ kiệu and dưa món

They contain fiber and support the digestive system. They are eaten with thá»"¹t kho (braised pork) or bánh chưng. While eating them in moderation and with vegetables is safe, they do have some substances that can cause cancer, experts say. They say salty foods including dưa món, cà pháo (eggplant), mắm tôm (shrimp paste) and thịt hun khói (smoked pork) increase the danger of stomach cancer for they contain nitrosamine, a carcinogenic substance, according to oncologist Nguyen Chan Hung.

Go easy on the meat

Giò bì (pork and skin paste), giò thủ (pork and head paste made from pork ear and nose, mushroom, garlic, onion, pepper, salt and sugar) and giò lụa (lean pork paste made of lean pork, potato starch, and fish sauce) are also must-have dishes for Tet. Since these are high energy foods, consider before taking a second or third helping.

Although thịt kho nưá»›c dừa is not as high in calories as the ones mentioned above, it is still a high-energy food that ideally should not be overeaten.

Mứt

Mứt brings the sweet taste to Tet cuisine. Fruits including sweet potato, carrot, waky pumpkin, tamarind, ginger and coconut are sliced and dipped in sugar syrup, turning them into a kind of candy. Eating a lot of mứt is not a good idea, but they have many good uses if we eat them right, according to herbalist Bay. For example, ginger can be both a delicacy and a medicine that can be used to treat indigestion or a swollen stomach. A few pieces of ginger mứt after a meal can kill the harmful salmonella bacteria. The kumquat mứt, often eaten raw, is a remedy for sore throats. Kumquat and persimmon mứt can also release alcohol toxins, Bay says, while carrot mứt is useful for treating diarrhea and dysentery. Lotus mứt decreases stress and helps one have a good night's sleep, while the tomato mứt has anticancer properties.

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