Chúc mừng năm mới, everyone! We’re taking a quick break from our One Week, Three Cities series to wish you all a very happy Lunar New Year. It’s the year of the dragon (my zodiac year!) and we are looking forward to a fantastic 2012! Lunar New Year is also known as Chinese New Year, which is a bit of a misnomer since many Asian cultures celebrate this time of year with their own festivals, traditions, and customs. This past weekend, we visited my parents for an early celebration of Tết, the Vietnamese word for Lunar New Year.
Moon cakes and chrysanthemum tea… now THAT’S autumn. The mere sight of that combination immediately has me humming the children’s song for the season (although honestly I only know one line: “tết trung thu đot đèn đi chơi” – It’s the Moon Festival, let’s light paper lanterns and go play).
This year, the Moon Festival (called Tet Trung Thu in Vietnamese) falls on September 12th.
Traditionally, families celebrate the autumn full moon by eating moon cake paired with hot tea. Children play with lit paper lanterns in shapes varying from simple red globes to (my personal favorite) the head of our beloved childhood hero Doraemon. Bakeries in Little Saigon this time of year go all out with lantern decorations and bright red boxes filled with cakes of assorted fillings including mung bean, lotus seed, or taro and with one duck egg yolk, two yolks, or none at all. Moon cakes are going to be fatty for certain, but in recent years, my family has discovered that My Hiep Bakery sells delicious moon cakes that use only vegetable oil, rather than the traditional lard. It was a difficult two years when I was pescatarian and my parents had to seek out not only cakes with no duck yolk but that also didn’t use lard as the moisture and binding agent, but My Hiep certainly delivers …literally! Their website features an online ordering system. It’s too late to place orders for this year, so you would have to go to the store, but mark your calendars – they sell moon cakes up to one month in advance and ship to your door! They also sell moon cakes all year round, but they up their production during Tet Trung Thu season to accommodate the crazy demand. The owner and his wife wake up extra early every morning during the month prior to Tet Trung Thu just to pound the paste for the fillings and prep the dough. Now that’s dedication!
Even though the weather here in southern California allows summer to pervade into October, there’s nothing that brings to mind the fall season more than having moon cakes and tea with my loved ones. My favorite is the taro (khoai mon) with one duck yolk (hot vit). At My Hiep, the tag reads “#15”. I don’t actually eat the yolk.. I just like it there for novelty.. but it’s like the Olive Theory from How I Met Your Mother — Martin loves the yolk part (in fact, it’s the only part he likes) so it works out perfectly. Even our cat Percee enjoyed a nibble of an outer crust crumb.. he’s been on a bit of a bread kick lately.
This time of year reminds me of how I have to ask my dad what date Tet Trung Thu is every year because he always seems to know, and how my mom would pick up moon cakes (banh trung thu) weeks in advance so she wouldn’t have to battle the crowds later. Moon cakes are a decadent treat, rich in history and tradition. See if you can get your hands on some this year!
Check out My Hiep Bakery: http://myhiep.com
10483 Bolsa Ave.
Westminster, CA 92683
Tel: (714) 839 – 4657
Fax: (714) 897 – 4058
See their Yelp reviews here.
Tet Trung Thu celebrates the full moon the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, typically early September. My Hiep takes online orders one month in advance and continues to bake and sell moon cakes year round and especially all through the Mid-Autumn Festival season.