Vietnamese New Year (Tết) isn’t just a single-day affair. For many families it can last several weeks or even a month. “The first day tends to be just family,” says Michael Thai of Bau Truong in Cabramatta. “The second day is when you start going around and visiting friends’ places.” In Australia, many of these gatherings happen in Sydney’s Vietnamese restaurants instead of at home.
Bau Truong is one of Cabramatta’s most popular home-style Vietnamese restaurants. Thai and his family have run it since 1995 when his mum, Bac Cang Nghieu went from part-time chef to operator. This week the restaurant will serve New Year feasts. One dish likely to populate the tables is thịt kho tàu, a pork-belly-and-egg dish that’s intensely rich from a long braising in soy sauce, fish sauce, coconut water, sugar and garlic. “We always look forward to the pork because we start making it two days before,” says Thai. “So by the second day, the pork just falls straight off the bone.”. Like many traditional Vietnamese dishes, it’s offered as a ritual to deceased members of the family or community before it’s eaten.
Although it’s uncommon to find seafood on a New Year menu in Vietnam (mostly because it’s unavailable during the holiday market closure), many people here will eat Chinese-style cá chưng tương bún tàu, or steamed whole fish with bean-thread noodles. “Fish is about prosperity. It means that you will have extra. Particularly when you have live or raw fish – it means you're creating surplus,” Thai says. Bau Truong also serves a Gỏi cá sống, a raw-fish salad that is sweet and tangy from sliced starfruit, green mango, tart apple and mint.