Vietnamese food has become increasingly popular since Hurricane Katrina, as phở and bánh mì places have proliferated across the Greater New Orleans Area, but there has been a strong Vietnamese contingent in New Orleans since the 1970s, as many Vietnamese moved to the United States after the Vietnam War. A large number settled in Louisiana, specifically in New Orleans East and the Westbank. If you can’t get enough with regular excursions to Dong Phuong or your favorite phở joint, immerse yourself in New Orleans’ Vietnamese culture by celebrating Tết, Vietnamese New Year. While there are Tết events in January, the largest local celebration is in New Orleans East at Mary Queen of Vietnam Church (Feb. 12-14). The free festival is a smorgasbord of Vietnamese food and culture, and the festive event is conveniently scheduled at a time when you might start to have Carnival withdrawals. Lovers of Vietnamese food, especially, will find many dishes beyond the familiar (see the mouth-watering list below). Huong Nguyen, media and outreach director of the Vietnamese American Young Leaders of New Orleans (VAYLA-NO), gives us the lowdown on the celebration that’s well worth the drive.
What is Tết? Tết is the Vietnamese cultural ringing in of the Lunar New Year that’s filled with many traditions. It isn’t celebrated on the first of January like the traditional American New Year, but instead is celebrated in late January or early February, to signify the first day of the first month of the Vietnamese calendar.
What can people expect at Tết? The most concentrated Vietnamese community in the U.S. is located in New Orleans East, and it will be hosting the biggest Lunar New Year Celebration in New Orleans. The purpose of the celebration is for friends, family and neighbors to eat delicious Vietnamese food, spend time with loved ones and enjoy Vietnamese entertainment. It will be celebrated as a three-day weekend [Mon., Feb. 15 is President’s Day]. There will be many booths, including games, gift shops and a history booth. Live entertainment will include Vietnamese music performances, traditional fashion shows, hip-hop dances, fan dances, a lion dance, firecracker shows and more. Children’s activities include face painting, train rides, bounce houses and game booths.
What are some of the Vietnamese food items that will be available? Bánh chưng (rice cakes), phở (noodle soup), chè (sweet dessert soup), bánh chuối (fried bananas), bánh xèo (Vietnamese crepes), gỏi cuốn (spring rolls), grilled Vietnamese corn, bún chả giò (fried spring rolls with vermicelli), bánh mì (Vietnamese poor boy),nem nướng (grilled chopped pork stick). Popular drinks are sugarcane juice, bubble tea and Vietnamese coffee. There will also be crawfish, charbroiled and raw oysters.
The New Orleans East Tết Festival happens Feb. 12-14 at Mary Queen of Vietnam Church (14001 Dwyer Blvd.) For more information on Tết, visit vayla-no.org.