Young people study holiday traditions for Tet

By Thanh Nga, Ngoc Ngan   February 10, 2024 | 04:00 pm PT
Intensive classes in cooking, flower arrangement, and mixology have been booming with young people wanting better Tet parties for the Lunar New Year holiday.

At a cooking class in downtown Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Anh attentively wrote down the recipe for boiling "fairy-wing-style chicken." She had found the course course on social media, and it cost VND700,000 ($28.66) or more per session. Tet (Lunar New Year), Vietnam's biggest and most important festival, lasts from Feb. 8 to 14.

For easy dishes, Anh studied online with reading materials, but for difficult dishes such as jellied meat, bamboo shoot soup, sticky rice cake banh chung, and boiled chicken fairy-wing-style, she traveled to the school to learn live and in person.

On the first day, Hong Anh struggled to learn how to distinguish between young and old chicken meat, as well as with how to master cleaning methods. Previously, the woman from Hanoi thought she only needed to add water to boil the chicken, but hers ended up only cooked on the outside, and still raw on the inside.

At the course, her instructor guided her through the steps to boil the chicken to a bright yellow color, with its head held high, wings fully stretched out, skin shining and legs undamaged.

After two weeks of attending classes, Hong Anh was also able to wrap and shape a beautiful Chung cake. She had learned not to "eyeball" the ingredients and instead used a small scale to measure the amount of spices she needed to use.

"I never thought I could make such complex dishes," she said. "All year long, I only worried about working and eating, so this year I decided to take care of the feast to save my parents the trouble."

A woman participates in an advanced cooking course focusing on Tet holiday dishes, led by Chef Ngo Doan Lenh in Hanoi, January 2024. Photo courtesy of Ngo Doan Lenh

A woman participates in an advanced cooking course focusing on Tet holiday dishes, led by Chef Ngo Doan Lenh in Hanoi, January 2024. Photo courtesy of Ngo Doan Lenh

Thu Thao, 24 years old, from Ba Dinh District, Hanoi spent a day at a flower arranging class. She said that before, every Tet holiday, she only knew how to buy several of one type of flower and put them all in the same vase. After the two-hour class, Thao became interested in mixing flower colors with different degrees of lightness. She realized that choosing the vase shape was also important.

For this Tet, Thao plans to use winterberries combined with red dahlias and some white lilies. She also invested several million dong (VND1 million = $40.94) buying a ceramic flower vase to enhance the beauty of the flowers. "I will take photos of my first flower vases that I arranged and post them on social media," she said.

According to a quick survey by VnExpress, since the beginning of January 2024 some 30-40 training courses for cooking, flower arrangement, and mixology have opened in preparation for Tet in HCMC and Hanoi.

Chef Ngo Doan Lenh, culinary instructor at L.Q.T Kitchen Center (Ha Dong, Hanoi), said that in December alone, there were about 200-300 students aged 25-35 registered to participate in cooking classes, double compared to last year. Tuition per session ranges from VND500,000 to VND1 million.

Most students take a one-session intensive course (3-4 hours) to grasp basic skills and recipes for dishes such as jellied meat, boiled chicken, Chung cake, fried spring rolls, and stir-fried vermicelli.

Lenh said that Tet dishes in the North are often elaborate and require many techniques. For example, the timing of boiled chicken depends on whether the chicken is young or old. Chicken must be both boiled and soaked so it is evenly cooked and the skin becomes golden. Moreover, students also need to know how to do food plating – which includes making flowers from vegetables and arranging fried spring rolls.

Young people at a mixology class in Tay Ho District, Hanoi in January 2024. Photo provided by the image owner

Since the beginning of December 2023, Nguyen Ngoc's flower shop in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City, has welcomed a 50% increase in the number of students for its arrangement classes compared to last year. Learners aged 25-35 pay from VND800,000 to VND1 million, depending on whether they’re using local or imported flowers.

Luu Thanh Vinh, director of Mission Mixology Training Academy, also noted that hundreds of students aged 19-25 had recently signed up to learn mixology. Unlike years past, they’re not studying to become bartenders but instead aim to make drinks for family and friends during Tet.

Among them is Bao My, 24 years old in Ho Chi Minh City. She will welcome her foreign boyfriend's family back to Vietnam during this Tet. To prepare, My spent VND5 million on a three-session drink mixing course. My is confident with smoothies, saying she knows how to choose which complimenting fruit colors to combine.

"I wanted to make an impression on them [the family]," she said. "Even though I have mastered the basics, I still practice regularly at home so I don't forget."

Associate Professor, Dr. Nguyen Ngoc Tho, head of the Department of Cultural Studies at Ho Chi Minh City University of Social Sciences and Humanities, said the proliferation of cooking classes and workshops for Tet is a good sign that young people want to learn about traditions.

Tho believes that the above classes create conditions for young people to learn more about cultural diversity. For example, the North's feast table is delicate and full of elaborate details, while the South's is relatively simple and more closely related to daily life.

Ngoc Trang, 24 years old, in Thanh Xuan district, Hanoi agrees with the above opinion. However, she believes that mastering cuisine in just a few lessons is impossible.

Trang spent VND1 million for a New Year's Eve cooking class. The class only lasted a few hours so she didn't remember all the steps.

Trang kept the recipe and cooked it at home, but the results were not as expected. Trang's sticky rice was inconsistent in texture. She was forced to watch cooking tutorials on YouTube.

"If you want to cook well, you must practice regularly," she said.

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