Holiday season in a jar: The crunchy pickle that defines Tet in southern Vietnam

By Tran Tien Dung, Thanh Nien News

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Cu kieu and dried shrimps, a perfect combination for a southern Vietnam's Tet party. Photo: Giang Vu

Markets displaying bunches of fresh cu kieu roots and families spreading the clean, chopped ones out to air are possibly the first signs of Tet in southern Vietnam.
Most families in the southern part of the country celebrate the holiday with one or two jars of cu kieu, a species of wild onion commonly known as Chinese or Oriental onion.
The preparation is simple enough many families still make their own jars although they are widely available in the market.
It happens before most other activities as the white roots need some pickling time - around two weeks, after being cleaned and dried.
The best ones are sour enough but still pungent and crunchy.

Vietnamese southerners usually eat them with a salty companion like dried shrimps, and sometimes with braised pork and traditional sticky rice cakes.
Wholesale markets in Ho Chi Minh City start stocking cu kieu a month before Tet festival, which this year peaks on February 19.
Their major suppliers are farmers from the provinces of Binh Dinh and Khanh Hoa in central region and Dong Thap in the Mekong Delta.
According to traditional medicine, the root provides extra body’s warmth and is good for digestion and urination.
But most diners just care about its mouth-watering taste which helps moderate many rich dishes served in parties after parties during the festival.
For those who love drinking more than eating, a mixture of cu kieu and dried shrimps is still the perfect match for beer.

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