A little while ago, Presbyterian College was blessed with the opportunity to enjoy some traditional Vietnamese Lunar New Year foods courtesy of freshman, Helen Tran. Tran, in the true spirit of all grassroots missions, decided to create an event that would give friends here on campus a glimpse into one of the major holidays celebrated in Asian cultures, the Lunar New Year. Not only was the food incredibly fresh and scrumptious, but I saw that this dinner had some transformative effects on the people who were there to partake.
Let’s back this up a little bit and offer some background as to what the “Lunar New Year” actually means. Whereas Americans are used to living according to a solar calendar, many other cultures live according to a lunar calendar. When asked more about the details of the traditions of the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, Tran had this to say:
Every Lunar New Year we (as the youngest generation) call our elders and wish them a happy new year. We wish for their health, wealth, and happiness throughout the year. We also try to avoid wearing black, but try to wear reds and golds for luck throughout the year. We do not clean the house on the first day, especially sweep, as to ‘clean’ away the evil spirits. Lunar New Year is one of the most important holidays in Asian cultures, especially that of the Vietnamese culture. I’ve spent many holidays without my family for different reasons, but Lunar New Year is the one holiday I’m always home (with the exception to this particular one).
She continued to talk about how for the dinner she was preparing a meatless dish that incorporated vegetables, sauces, and rice for the first day of the Lunar New Year. The absence of meat is more in keeping with the ideology behind the celebration because entering meat into the equation would mean that a living being was killed. For this event, however, Tran also fixed some meat for the carnivores in attendance; I can attest to the deliciousness.
I feel that those lucky enough to get to partake in this grassroots event witnessed something truly unique. It seemed as though, for once, everyone stopped what they were doing and took the time to, well, GATHER. On a Sunday night, the CIH kitchen transformed into a sort of watering hole where everyone conversed and, dare I say it, forgot about deadlines. Like most good dinner parties there was a set time for the meal to begin and end and like only the finest dinner parties did we all disregard that western mentality of keeping the time. About twenty people give or take, met up to learn about and celebrate a holiday. I am firm in my conviction that we all came out of this event with an uncanny sense of renewal and appreciation for fresh beginnings. Did I mention fellow freshman Kat Barrett, Tran’s co-host and planner, brought us some delicious fruit to top off the evening? She did. And we descended upon that bowl like vultures to a carcass. Though that may be a tad graphic and only slightly hyperbolic, I saw people quietly fight for the right to some strawberries. All this to say, thank you, ladies! Below is Tran’s method to her Lunar New Year Meal madness.
“My recipe is simple. Whatever vegetables you like, chop them up small and cook them in the order it takes to cook. For example, carrots take a longer time to cook than mushrooms; so you would want to throw the carrots in immediately after the garlic and onions. Add soy sauce, salt, and sesame oil according to taste and VOLIA! Vegetable Stir-Fry, you can add meat or anything as you please.”
-Helen Tran (Freshman)