Vietnamese community welcomes the Year of the Rooster

Vietnamese community welcomes the Year of the Rooster

SBS World News Radio: Australia's Vietnamese community is welcoming in the Year of the Rooster.

Their New Year, also known as Tet, is formally celebrated on the first day of the first month in the Lunar Calendar.

In an effort to keep a dying art alive, volunteers from Melbourne's Vietnamese community gathered to bake.

But it wasn't just any cake they made, it was the traditional Banh Chung.

Phong Nguyen is the National Vice President of the Vietnamese Community in Australia.

He says he wants future generations to experience the beauty of the Vietnamese culture.

"Very few people do it now. Commercially, of course, but not traditionally, hand bake and so on. So similarly in Vietnam and elsewhere in our culture we are threatened with commercialism."

Banh Chung cake is commonly eaten during the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, or Tet.

This bake-off, part of the Melbourne festivities, saw volunteers working through the day and night to get the cake just right.

"It's made out of sticky rice, and in the middle there's some meat, some pork meat, usually pork or if you're vegetarian then no meat and you do have mung beans and the mung beans and the sticky rice must be uncooked, right and then wrapped in layer and layer of banana leaves, and then tied it up and cooked in a big pot for 12 hours."

Mr Nguyen arrived in Australia as a refugee almost 40 years ago.

This food takes him back to his roots.

"It's time like this I remember my grandmother...she meticulously prepared every sweet for every New Year. Every Bunh Chung. She spent hours and hours and months, you know, days and months preparing for the children with a lot of love put into it."

The Vietnamese community begin their New Year preparations well in advance, with many of the traditions embraced by the young and the old.

"We buy pawpaw, watermelon and mango; some traditional sweets and lanterns; lots of flowers, fruits, Banh Chung and all those things. Traditional stuff."

Specialist grocers and bakeries do a roaring trade.

Grocer Dle Tran says she makes sure her shop in Richmond in south-east Melbourne, is well stocked.

"Extra products in and some products from Vietnam.... people really want for the New Year coconut, ginger and sweet for desert or something like that, or a whole packet of candy."

There are five fruits of particular importance during Tet.

Custard apple, coconut, pawpaw, mango and figs are part of the offering placed on the ancestral altar.

"Whatever food you prepare, like fish or meat or rice, you do have an altar and that invites the spirit of ancestors to come home."

It's a time of gratitude....

"The main message of the Vietnamese Tet is to say thank you, to say thank you to anyone who has done good things for you throughout the year. Thankful to our ancestors, thankful to the nation that nourishes us. Thank you to Australia."

... and a time of forgiveness.

"Happy New Year!"


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