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Tết Đoan Ngọ: Dragon Boat Festival in Vietnam by Vietnamese new immigrant Nguyễn Thị Phương Hoa

With the current pandemic getting worse around the world, I am looking forward to the coming of Tết Đoan Ngọ (Vietnamese Dragon Boat Festival) to chase away this virus and bring health and peace to the world! Why do I say that? Because in Vietnam, Tết Đoan Ngọ is also called Parasite-Killing Festival. I am sure when you hear Parasite-Killing Festival, you can understand why I look forward to this festival.

Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated in many regions of Asia, including Taiwan, China, Korea, and Vietnam. So, what makes Vietnamese Dragon Boat Festival differ from other countries’ festivals? Much like Taiwan’s Dragon Boat Festival, Vietnam’s Tết Đoan Ngọ is also celebrated on May 5, however we don’t celebrate the holiday in remembrance of Qu Yuan, eat rice dumplings, balance eggs, do dragon boat race, or get off from work. Then, how do Vietnamese celebrate Tết Đoan Ngọ?

I grew up in Northern Vietnam, and every year, the week before the festival, my mother would start to prepare fermented rice. Making fermented rice requires many steps and the process is complicated, and you have to pay attention to a lot of details. The first step in making fermented rice is to cook glutinous rice. After the rice is cooked and chilled, add wine and yeast (pay attention to the ratio of yeast and rice) to it, then wrap the rice in banana leaves. About four to five days later, you’ll begin to smell the fragrance of the fermented rice. My mother would always remind us children not to unwrap the banana leaves, for if the air gets in there, it would spoil the fermented rice and ruin my mother’s hard work. However, curiosity always get the best of me, and I could never resist from taking a peek. After taking a look, I always call out to her and let her know there are liquid oozing out from the wrap. She would check and announce that the fermented rice is a success. Usually, that’s the day before Tết Đoan Ngọ.

On the morning of Tết Đoan Ngọ, adults would prepare a big pot of herbal water made from grapefruit peel, lemon leaf, lemongrass, coriander flower, and holy basil. The herbal water is for bathing, in order to wash away all the germs and parasites, and signifying that the coming year we will be safe and healthy. After we finish bathing in the herbal water, and praying to the ancestors and the gods, everyone would enjoy the fermented rice together. I remember there was one year, I ate bowl after bowl of rice because it was so delicious and fragrant. By the time my mother noticed, I already ate all of the fermented rice. She said my face turned bright from the fermented rice, and I mumbled, “kill parasites, kill parasites...” for a good while.

The summer is upon us, I wish everyone is staying safe. If you have a chance to visit Vietnam during Tết Đoan Ngọ, don’t miss out on the fermented rice, but don’t over eat like I did!

Image 1. Fermented rice made with black rice 

Fermented rice made with black rice

Image 2. Family coming together for Tết Đoan Ngọ

Family coming together for Tết Đoan Ngọ