Monday, January 23, 2012

Happy New Year, Happy Tet!

Today is Tet, Vietnam’s biggest and most popular festival.  Having celebrateimaged the "Western" New Year celebrated in Saigon in 2011, which was on the caliber of Times Square, I can only imagine the magnitude of Tet on the celebration scale! It is the longest holiday, sometimes lasting up to seven days – although this year’s is expected to last nine days!  This is the time of year that many Vietnamese return for the holidays to their families to celebrate and to remember their ancestors.  

Tet is determined by the Lunar calendar instead of the Gregorian calendar.  The Lunar calendar has a set number of 30 days per month, an a whole intercalary month instead of the 29th day in leap year.  What that means is that the Lunar new year normally will fall sometime in late January or early February, not on the same day every year.  

Tet is kind of like our Christmas, New Year, Easter and Thanksgiving all rolled up into one. 
One of the most traditional special foods for New Year (Tet) of Vietnamese is Banh Chung or sticky rice cake.  It’s made of sticky rice, pork meat, and green beans, all wrapped inside a special leaf.  Making Banh Chung requires care and precision that we do not possess.   But, in honor of this most auspicious Vietnamese holiday and Sharon’s Vietnamese daughters, we offer you a recipe for Vietnamese Pho that we think you’ll enjoy during these chillier winter months! 

Visit to learn more about the various Tet customs.  

Beef Pho (Pho Bo)
1 lb flat rice noodles or rice sticks image
8 oz. bean sprouts (blanched briefly to soften slightly)
8 shallots thinly sliced
4 Tbspns finely chopped fresh coriander (cilantro)
8 oz. beef filet, thinly sliced (I usually by thin breakfast steaks) 

For the broth: 

3 pints beef stock or canned beef consomme
4oz piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and minced
1/2 tspn coriander seeds
2 sticks cinnamon bark
3 pieces star anise  (has a flavor of aniseed or liquorice and is used in five-spice-powder; I also sometimes us fennel instead – it gives a different but still tasty flavor)
1 tspn each caster sugar (superfine sugar), sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper.
4 tspns nuoc mam (fish sauce)

To make the broth, bring the stock to boiling point.  Add the ginger, cinnamon sticks, coriander seeds and star anise.  Simmer for about 15 minutes.  Add the sugar, salt, pepper, and nuoc mam.  Strain the broth and return to the pan.  Keep hot over low heat. 

Bring a pan of water to a boil and warm through the noodels or cook the rice sticks until al dente.  Drain and divide among individual bowls.  Add a handful of blanched beansprouts and some shallots and coriander to each bowl and top with the beef.  Ladle the hot broth over (the beef will cook a little in the heat of the broth). 

At the table, each diner can had hoi sin and chili sauces, lime juice, fresh chili, basil leaves, etc. to taste. 


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