It’s a festival that’s often referred to as Chinese New Year - but it’s also the most important celebration in many other cultures including the Vietnamese. Known as Tết in Vietnamese, short for Tết Nguyên Đán, it translates to ‘Festival of the first day'.

Chatting with Chef Kevin Do, who came from Hanoi four months ago to work at Jungle 8 when it opened, it was fascinating to hear his stories about how Tết is celebrated back in his home city.

Streets will be decorated with flags, banners and flowers and most shops will be closed for a week as the focus shifts to the family celebrations to usher in the New Year. Red envelopes containing money are exchanged, and there’ll be parade, dances and fireworks.

Food, like many Asian celebrations, is central to the festivities. Families eat five-fruit platters to honour their ancestors as well as dishes called gio, xoi and banh chung.

This will be Kevin’s first Tết away from his family in Vietnam, but as a way to keep celebrations alive, he has come up with a “Mam Com Tết”  jungle platter offering of traditional Vietnamese New Year must-haves. Priced at $88, this will be available from 8-15 February.

The platter is a treasure trove of all things auspicious for Tết, and something you’d need to tuck into for good luck in the coming Lunar New Year. Some of the dishes include:

Banh Chung - Vietnamese square sticky rice cake, honours ancestors, the sea and sky.
Ga Luoc - a golden boiled chicken dish is eaten to bring blessings and a new dawn. According to Vietnamese folklore, when the rooster crows for the first time in the day, the dawn breaks and the sun rises to dispel the dark of night.
Nem Ran - Vietnamese fried spring roll is a favorite of many people and is considered the national spirit of the Vietnamese. It represents unity, harmony and wealth.
Gio Lua - Eating this is believed to bring happiness. The dish is made from minced pork loin, combined with flavorsome fish sauce and different spices such as tapioca starch, baking powder, sugar, seasoning powder, white pepper. 
Xoi Gac - Vietnamese red sticky rice, it is believed that red is the color that brings good luck to everyone and therefore eating this will bring good luck.
Thit Kho - Braised caramelised pork belly. This is a dish that represents more than sustenance. It symbolises the coming together of family.

Lunar New Year menu at Jungle 8
Lunar New Year menu at Jungle 8
Lunar New Year menu at Jungle 8

But if it is a southern Vietnamese Tết experience that you’re after, Saigon Chill on Lorne Street where the owner Long Tran has designed a special platter ($58.50) with traditional favourites.

Long explained that food from this region has “stronger sweet and sour flavours” when compared to Hanoi. The special platter includes fried whole almond prawns, Vietnamese spring rolls, a medley of veggies, herbs and pickles and rice vermicelli with Nuoc cham dip. It also has prawn and pork grilled on lemongrass sticks.

But the standout item on the platter for me has to be the Bò lá lốt (seasoned beef wrapped in betel leaves and grilled over charcoal fire) eaten with the dipping sauce.

Chuc Mung Nam Moi! Happy New Year!

Saigon Chill
Saigon Chill
Last updated: 13 February 2024