A party with family and friends is one of the occasions that highlights Vietnam’s regional identity. Each province has rites of preparation which showcase the cultural heritage of locals.
Following is how Southwestern Vietnamese locals throw a party. It can be encapsulated in two adjectives, feast and folk!
An elaborate affair
In urban areas, a host will invite guests to a restaurant, or engage the service of party planners and caterers to save time due to busy big city lives. In contrast, people in the Southwestern region tend to prepare and cook themselves. Every member of the family joins in the process, from setting up chairs and tables and cooking foods, to serving guests. Common celebrations are weddings, death anniversaries, a baby’s first birthday or a full-moon celebration.
Depending on the budget, a party can be as grand or simple as people want it to be. Regardless of their economic situation, they still put a lot of work into the preparation, which usually takes two to three days. This is also a unique feature of Southwestern culture.
A week before the party, family members make a checklist of things to buy or rent, and decide who will be in charge of what. Men will rent the canopy, tables, chairs and tableware.
Two or three days before the party, they start going to the market to pick up ingredients. Homemade food is always preferred to store-bought.
A day before the party, men are responsible for setting up the canopy, arranging tables and chairs, or prepping the flower gate if it is a wedding. The women work on the ingredients, cleaning meat and washing vegetables. Sticky rice will be steamed first, while pork bone is simmered for the hot pot broth.
Four to five hours before the event, everyone is split into groups to perform tasks, such as cooking, plating, welcoming guests and serving.
Young and old, girls and boys, all join in the process. The happy, bustling scene is filled with chatter and laughter.
Quality family bonding time
Along with Tết, a milestone celebration is an occasion for everyone in the family to reunite and forge their relationships. Normally, distant relatives return a few days before the feast to help with the preparation. Neighbours also put aside their farm work and pitch in. These are the parties where everyone has a chance to get together to prepare and cook every dish.
The “working together and helping each other” spirit is an indispensable feature of Southwestern celebration, despite the differences in each family. This tradition is difficult to observe in urban areas where space is limited and everything is set up without the engagement of family members or acquaintances.
What comprises the feast?
The menu varies, depending on each household’s economic situation and palate, but usually consists of about seven to 10 dishes:
Soup appetizers: Mostly chicken soup, chicken or duck porridge.
Dry appetizers: Locals call them “four snacks” – a salad, spring roll, nem (fermented meat ball), cold cut or fried shrimp.
Main courses include one dry dish and one soup. The former can be roasted chicken or suckling pig. There is also snakehead or seabass steamed or deep-fried. These are served alongside fried rice or vermicelli. Soup dishes are variations of hot pots, including those made with freshwater fish, duck and fermented bean curd or mắm (fermented fish) accompanied by native vegetables, such as yellow velvetleaves, water spinach, Ceylon spinach, squash blossoms and water lilies.
Desserts: The most popular is jelly, but some places also serve fruit and ice cream.
When the party ends, guests are given a pack of food to bring home so that even those who cannot attend can still enjoy the celebration. Like the Southwestern locals, parties are rustic and unassuming. Even as convenience becomes a priority, many people still embrace the spirit of “working together and helping each other.” It’s the beauty of life in the Mekong Delta.
This post is also available in: Tiếng Việt