| Dominik Osele

Tet Festival in Vietnam: Traditional Customs and Delicious Dishes of the Vietnamese Lunar New Year

Every year, Vietnam transforms into a kaleidoscope of colors, scents and traditions when Tet, the Vietnamese New Year, is celebrated. Tet, also known as Tết Nguyên Đán, is not only the beginning of a new year according to the lunar calendar, but also a profound celebration that reflects Vietnam's rich culture and centuries-old traditions. During this special time of year, families come together to celebrate, commemorate and look to the future.

Tet is more than just a New Year celebration; it is a fusion of cultural customs, spiritual practices and culinary delights that vary from region to region. From the misty mountains of northern Vietnam to the lush Mekong deltas in the south, each region has its own unique Tet traditions that are deeply rooted in local history and ways of life.

In this article, we delve into the world of Tet to discover the diverse customs and delicious recipes that make this festival an unforgettable experience. We explore the profound ancestor worship, the colorful New Year rituals and the delicious foods that characterize the Tet festival in Vietnam. Every custom, every dish carries a story within it - stories of community, renewal and hope.

If you want to know what the Tet Festival actually is and when it takes place, you can this Blog article to learn more about the story behind it.

Customs for Tet Festival

Tet is a time when traditional customs and rituals are at the heart of Vietnamese life. These rituals, deeply rooted in the country's history and belief systems, are an essential part of the celebrations and reflect respect for the past and hope for the future.

Ancestor worship

Ancestor worship plays a central role in the Tet festival and reflects the deep respect Vietnamese culture has for their ancestors. Days before the New Year, families begin preparing for this important custom. They visit the graves of their ancestors to clean and decorate them, which is seen as an invitation to the ancestral spirits to join the celebrations. At home, a special tray of fruit and traditional dishes is arranged and placed on the ancestral altar. While the family patriarch burns incense, prayers are said asking for protection and blessings for the family. This practice demonstrates the connection with the past and honors the memory of the ancestors.

Li Xi

Li Xi, the giving of money in red envelopes, is a joyful and essential part of the Tet Festival. These red envelopes, often beautifully decorated, symbolize good luck and prosperity and are given to children as well as older family members. In Vietnamese culture, the color red represents fire, which in turn symbolizes light, warmth, sun and good luck. This custom is not only an act of generosity, but also serves to convey good luck and good wishes for the coming year. It is believed that the actions and behaviors during the Tet Festival can influence the course of the coming year, which is why special efforts are made to make positive gestures such as giving Li Xi

Hái lộc đầu xuân – picking buds in early spring

Photo of Quỳnh Le Manh on Unsplash

The custom of bud picking at the beginning of spring, known as “Hái lộc đầu xuân”, is a symbol of capturing good luck and prosperity for the coming year in Vietnam. This ritual consists of picking fresh branches from trees that symbolize fertility and prosperity. Branches from fruit trees or decorative plants such as kumquat trees are particularly popular and line the streets and markets of Vietnam during this time.

The picking of these branches is not only a cultural practice, but also a moment of togetherness and family bonding. Family members come together to select the best and most beautiful branches for their home, with each branch carefully chosen to ensure it brings good luck and prosperity. The selected branches are then brought home and often used as decorations to ensure positive energy and good luck for the entire year.


Xin chữ ngày xuân – Praying for good fortune in spring

Photo of Hiep Duong on Unsplash

“Xin chữ ngày xuân”, praying for good luck, is another central part of Tet. This custom involves visiting temples to receive scrolls or calligraphy with blessings for the new year. These scriptures are often written by monks or skilled calligraphers and contain words of good luck, health and prosperity.

Vietnamese people believe that hanging these lucky scriptures in their homes or business premises will attract positive energy and good luck for the coming year. It is also a moment of reflection and prayer where people pray for a prosperous and healthy new year.

The received lucky scriptures are often hung in visible places in the house to maximize good energy and serve as a daily reminder of wishes and hopes for the new year. In some families, it is also customary for older family members to give lucky scriptures to younger ones as a sign of their blessings and good wishes.

Xông đất đầu năm – The First Home Visit in the New Year

The custom of “Xông đất”, the first house visit of the new year, is a deep-rooted and meaningful part of the Tet festival. This custom symbolizes good luck and prosperity for the coming year and is practiced with great care and respect throughout Vietnam.

At the heart of the custom is the belief that the first person to enter a house in the new year has a decisive influence on the luck and fortunes of the family living there. Therefore, the selection of this person, who is considered the "messenger of good luck", is not left to chance. He should have certain qualities that are considered favorable for the coming year.

Choosing the lucky person

The criteria for selecting the first person to enter the house are complex. The ideal person is someone who is considered to be of moral integrity, healthy, successful and happy. Often a person is chosen who has experienced particular successes or moments of happiness in the past year. The belief behind this is that this positive energy and happiness will be passed on to the family.

Preferred features include:

  • Health and joy of life : A vital and cheerful aura is seen as a good omen for health and happiness in the new year.
  • Success and Prosperity : People who are successful in their professional or personal life are considered lucky charms for financial and professional happiness.
  • Social status and reputation : A high social status or reputation in the community can be seen as a sign of leadership competence and success.

Implementation of the custom

On the morning of New Year's Day, the family prepares to welcome the first visitor. The visitor enters the house with good wishes for the family. He often brings small gifts or lucky charms. In some cases, there may also be a short ritual or an exchange of good wishes.

It is also customary for the family to invite the person who will be the first to enter the house in advance. This ensures that the "right" person takes on this important role. The person's clothing is also important - it should be neat and colorful to start the new year with positive energy.

Symbolic meaning

The custom of “Xông đất” goes beyond superstition and reflects Vietnamese culture’s deep-rooted appreciation for good luck, harmony and positive relationships. This custom expresses a wish for a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year for the whole family.

In modern Vietnamese society, this custom remains highly valued and is observed by many families as an essential part of Tet celebrations. It embodies the optimism and hope associated with the New Year and strengthens family and social bonds.

Regional differences in the Tet festival

The Tet festival in Vietnam is characterized by a variety of customs and traditions that vary depending on the region of the country. These regional differences reflect the cultural diversity of Vietnam and enrich the New Year celebrations with unique traditions and foods. We would like to introduce you to a few of them here.

North Vietnam (Hanoi and surroundings)

In northern Vietnam, especially in and around Hanoi, peach blossoms (Hoa Đào) are a central symbol of the Tet festival. These red flowers are considered lucky and are often used as decoration in homes and public places. The cuisine of northern Vietnam during the Tet festival is characterized by traditional dishes such as Bánh Chưng (a square sticky rice cake). The custom of “Tất Niên”, the farewell meal of the old year, is also celebrated here.

Photo of Yan Ming on Unsplash

Central Vietnam (Hue and surroundings)

Central Vietnam, with its historic city of Hue, is known for its imperial cuisine. During the Tet festival, special vegetarian dishes dating back to the time of the imperial dynasties are often prepared here. Also unique to this region are the Bánh Tét, a cylindrical variant of the Bánh Chưng, as well as various types of sweet and candied fruits.

South Vietnam (Saigon and Mekong Delta)

In southern Vietnam, especially in Saigon, apricot blossoms (Hoa Mai) are the focus of the Tet festival. These yellow flowers are considered a symbol of prosperity and good luck. The Tet celebrations in the south are characterized by vibrant colors and floating markets. Culinary-wise, this region is characterized by a variety of cold dishes and variations of Bánh Tét. The five-fruit bowl (Mâm Ngũ Quả) in the south avoids certain fruits in order to ward off bad luck.

Vietnam Central Highlands

The Central Highlands regions of Vietnam are home to unique ethnic festivals and cuisines, with dishes such as bamboo tube rice and baked bacon deeply rooted in the traditions of local cultures.

Photo of Son Tung Tran

Popular dishes for Tet

At the heart of Tet, the Vietnamese New Year, lies the tradition of sharing a meal together, known as “Ăn Tết.” This culinary practice is more than just preparing and enjoying food—it is a deep-rooted expression of togetherness, gratitude, and remembrance.

Eating together during the Tet festival is a pivotal moment for Vietnamese families. It is a time when generations come together to share not only food, but also stories, memories and hopes for the new year. “Ăn Tết” symbolizes family unity and serves as a bridge between the past and the future, upholding the traditions and values ​​of ancestors and passing them on to younger generations.

The variety of dishes prepared during Tet reflects Vietnam's rich culinary landscape. Each region of the country brings its own unique tastes and traditions, resulting in a remarkable variety of flavors and cooking styles. These regional differences enrich the festival and offer a glimpse into the diverse cultural influences that shape Vietnamese cuisine.

Among the many popular dishes served during the Tet festival, there are some that have special meaning and can be found in almost every household. In this section, we introduce four of the most well-known and popular Tet dishes:

  • Bánh Chưng – a traditional glutinous rice cake that is deeply rooted in Vietnamese mythology.
  • Mâm Ngũ Quả – a tray with five different fruits, symbolizing the five elements.
  • Spring rolls – in various regional variations that are popular throughout the country.
  • Xôi Gấc – a red sticky rice that symbolizes luck and prosperity.

How to prepare Banh Chưng

Bánh Chưng is a central element of the Tet festival in Vietnam and embodies deep cultural meanings. Originating in northern Vietnam, it is a traditional rice dish prepared especially for the New Year celebrations.

Bánh Chưng is not only a typical dish, but also an expression of the world view and human life in the ancient rice-growing culture of Vietnam. In its original version, the cake symbolizes the "square land" in the traditional Vietnamese idea of ​​"round sky and square land". Its preparation and consumption during the Tet festival is to be understood as an expression of gratitude to heaven and earth and as an acknowledgement of parental care. The production of Bánh Chưng is a family event in which all members come together and take on various tasks to make the best cakes. This promotes family unity and understanding among each other.

While the Bánh Chưng in northern Vietnam is traditionally square and symbolizes the earth, in southern Vietnam there is a cylindrical variant, the Bánh Tét, which is supposed to represent heaven. Both variants are made from similar ingredients, but their shape and preparation method differ slightly.

A typical recipe for Bánh Chưng


  • Sticky rice: 650 grams
  • Mung beans without shell: 400 grams
  • Pork belly: 300 grams
  • Salt, pepper, shallots and spice powder
  • Dong leaves or banana leaves: For wrapping the cake


Preparation (approx. 1 hour 30 minutes):

  • Soak sticky rice and mung beans overnight.
  • Drain the rice and beans, mix the rice with a little salt, season the beans with salt and pepper.
  • Cut the meat into pieces and marinate with salt, pepper, shallots and sugar.

Assembly (duration depends on skill and experience):

  • Arrange banana leaves or dong leaves in a square shape.
  • Add a layer of sticky rice, then a layer of mung beans, followed by the marinated meat, and finally another layer of mung beans and sticky rice.

Cooking (6-7 hours):

  • Place the bánh chưng in a large pot, cover with water and cook for 6-7 hours, adding water regularly to keep the cakes covered.
  • Halfway through cooking, turn the Bánh Chưng and change the water if necessary.

Completion and serving:

  • After cooking, let the Bánh Chưng cool and cut into pieces.
  • Can be served warm or at room temperature, often with pickled onions or vegetables.

Mâm Ngũ Quả – The Five Fruit Bowl at the Tet Festival

The “Mâm Ngũ Quả”, literally the “Five Fruit Bowl”, is a meaningful and traditional part of the Vietnamese Tet festival. This bowl represents the wish for prosperity, happiness and abundance in the coming year and also reflects the cultural diversity and regional differences in Vietnam.

The Mâm Ngũ Quả is more than just a bowl of fruit – it symbolizes respect for ancestors and a wish for a successful year. Each of the five fruits in the bowl represents a specific meaning, and their selection varies depending on the region and associated cultural beliefs.

Regional differences

  • North Vietnam : Fruits such as Lê (pears), Lựu (pomegranates), Đào (peaches), Mai (apricots) and Phật thủ (Buddha's hand or citron) are often used here. These fruits represent different aspects of life and happiness. Great importance is placed on the color harmony and arrangement of the fruits to achieve an aesthetic and symbolic balance.
  • Central Vietnam : In this region, the composition of Mâm Ngũ Quả is often simpler as it depends mainly on the availability of fruit. Fruits such as Thanh long (dragon fruit), Chuối (bananas), Dưa hấu (watermelons) and Mãng cầu (soursop) are common.
  • Southern Vietnam : Here, the Mâm Ngũ Quả typically contains fruits such as Mãng cầu Xiêm (soursop), Dừa (coconut), Đu đủ (papaya), Xoài (mango) and often a pair of Dưa hấu (watermelons). The arrangement aims for harmony in shape and color to symbolize the motto "Cầu sung vừa đủ xài" - "wishes for sufficient prosperity". The use of fruits with negative symbolism such as bananas or citrus fruits is avoided as these are considered unlucky in southern Vietnam.

How to make Vietnamese spring rolls

Vietnamese spring rolls, known as Nem Rán in the north and Chả Giò in the south, are also an essential part of the culinary traditions during Tet in Vietnam. They differ slightly in their preparation and ingredients depending on whether they are prepared in the north or south of Vietnam.

Nem Rán (North Vietnam)

In northern Vietnam, especially in Hanoi, Nem Rán is a popular variation of spring rolls. Nem Rán typically contains the following ingredients:

  • Minced pork
  • Mung bean sprouts
  • carrot
  • egg yolk
  • Bean noodles and mu-err mushrooms
  • Fried onions or shallots
  • Green onions and coriander (optional)
  • Spices such as chicken powder, salt, sugar, black pepper and cooking oil

Preparation involves soaking mu err mushrooms and bean vermicelli, cutting vegetables and mixing ingredients for the filling. The rice paper is often coated with a mixture of water, rice powder, salt and wine before the spring rolls are wrapped to make them extra crispy. They are then deep-fried and served with a special northern-inspired fish sauce that contains fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, chili, salt, garlic, black pepper, as well as kohlrabi and carrot.

Chả Giò (South Vietnam)

Chả Giò, the southern Vietnamese version of the spring roll, is often prepared with similar ingredients as Nem Rán, but with some variations:

  • Minced pork and shrimps
  • Carrot and kohlrabi
  • Morels and glass noodles
  • Onion, garlic powder, pepper, salt, sugar, glutamate and fish sauce
  • Beer and rice paper for spring rolls

When preparing Chả Giò, the ingredients are finely chopped, mixed and mixed with ground pork and spices. The rice paper is treated with a warm beer and water mixture before being used to wrap the spring rolls. The spring rolls are then deep-fried and often served with a chili-lime fish sauce dip.

Xôi Gấc – Vietnamese red sticky rice

Xôi Gấc is a traditional Vietnamese dish that is part of every Tet festival. It is characterized by its striking red color, which is achieved by the gac fruit (also known as “baby jackfruit”). This color has a special meaning in Vietnamese culture, as red is considered a symbol of good luck and prosperity.

Xôi Gấc is traditionally served on special occasions such as Tet, engagements and weddings. In addition to the gac fruit, coconut milk is often added, giving the dish a creamy and rich taste.

Recipe for Xôi Gấc

To prepare Xôi Gấc for a family of four, you will need the following ingredients:

  • 2 cups sticky rice
  • 1 ripe Gac fruit (the pulp)
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt


  • Preparation: Soak the sticky rice in water overnight.
  • Prepare Gac Pulp: Remove the pulp from the Gac fruit and mash it in a bowl.
  • Cooking: Drain the soaked rice and mix it with the gac pulp, coconut milk, sugar and salt in a saucepan. Cook the rice over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it has absorbed all the liquid and the rice is tender.
  • Serving: Place the finished Xôi Gấc in a bowl and serve as a side dish or on its own.

FAQ – Questions and answers about customs and dishes for the Tet festival

What is the significance of Bánh Chưng at the Tet Festival?

Bánh Chưng is a traditional sticky rice cake that plays a central role during the Tet festival. It symbolizes the earth and stands for the connection with nature and ancestors. The Bánh Chưng is wrapped in green leaves and represents gratitude, fertility and prosperity.

What does the Mâm Ngũ Quả symbolize?

The Mâm Ngũ Quả, a bowl with five different fruits, is an important part of the Tet festival. It symbolizes the five elements and represents wishes for health, prosperity and happiness in the new year. The selection of fruits varies regionally and reflects the cultural diversity of Vietnam.

What regional differences are there in the Tet Festival?

Regional differences in the Tet festival are mainly reflected in culinary traditions. In the north of Vietnam, peach blossoms and Bánh Chưng are popular, while in the south apricot blossoms and Bánh Tét predominate. The composition of the Mâm Ngũ Quả and the type of spring rolls also vary between regions.

How is Xôi Gấc prepared and what does it mean?

Xôi Gấc is a popular Tet dish made from sticky rice and the Gac fruit. The red color of the dish symbolizes luck and prosperity. To prepare it, sticky rice is mixed with the pulp of the Gac fruit and then cooked, often with the addition of coconut milk and sugar. Xôi Gấc is a visual and taste highlight on every Tet holiday table.