Saturday 13 February 2010
The year of the tiger is upon us. In very appropriate fashion (no pun intended), my friend N & I went to the Tết Festival (known in full as Tết Nguyên Đán) that is held every year in Little Saigon(Orange County, CA). It is a festival that brings many people of different cultures together but of course many, many Vietnamese in celebration of the new Chinese (for me but in this case Vietnamese) New Year.
The festival was held over 3 days and had a number of vendors either selling merchandise or promoting a cause, politicians, fundraisers, student volunteers, army veterans, food stalls and the myriad of families bringing their children out celebrate the most important holiday of the lunar calendar year. The Tet Festival offered free admissions for anybody wearing an Áo dài, the Vietnamese national dress. My friend N donned a very beautiful Ao dai that turned a number of heads for the festival.
After a short wait in line, we entered through the big arches and went to find some interesting booths to explore. There was were a bunch of kids dressed up in super adorable costumes and “guarding” the arches into the main area of the festival.
One of my favourite parts was seeing all the lovely miniature buildings beautifully decorated in the spirit of the new year. There were a number of cute structures that reminded me of my childhood. For example, there was the little tree with the mandarins and red envelopes hung on the branches as a sign for good luck. The boat I am sure is another auspicious sign. Either way it was a pretty cute to see along with the mini houses with thatched roofs.
My ultimately favourite sight though was the tree of love. The tree was completely wrapped from tip to toe in soft pink crepe paper and streamers floating all the way to the ground. The volunteers gave us a piece of heart-shaped paper for us to write something we love or were thankful for and then they would hang it up on the tree.
We also stopped by some old men playing chinese checkers. Not just any chinese checkers though. The jumbo version. And they had some long sticks to help them move the pieces. It was very fun to watch. Shame I don’t know how to play.
And last but obviously not least. We went to check out some food vendors. There was such a large range of choices I didn’t even know what to pick. The few options that stood out were the green papaya salad with beef jerky and all of the different types of fried food like fried meat balls and squid. But of course, being a vegetarian now (well pesco vegetarian at least) I couldn’t eat most of those things. But they looked delicious. There was also a famous sandwich vendor, Lee’s Sandwich (I think?), that was widely popular with the Vietnamese folks. The Vietnamese sandwiches are inspired by the French baguette and so it’s a combination of a baguette with thinly sliced and marinated Vietnamese meat and accents such as pickled vegetables. Sounded delicious. I opted for the spring rolls and corn though which are very traditional Vietnamese staples. The grossest thing I saw was the balut (also known as hột vịt lộn) which is a fertilized chicken egg that has an almost fully developed embryo cooked and eaten with herbs. Ew it looks sooooo disgusting I couldn’t eat it. But I liked the corn anyway.