Symbolism & Legends
A non la is the traditional Vietnamese conical hat covered with leaves. According to legend, during a rain storm a giant woman descended from the wearing on her head four huge round leaves as large as the sky itself and stitched together by bamboo sticks. The hat protected the people. Then, the giant messenger from the sky twirled round the leaves on her head to dispel clouds and rains. Those who followed her were taught how to grow crops. One day, mankind fell asleep as she told them stories. When they woke up the she was gone. The Vietnamese built a temple in her honor and deemed her the Rain-shielding Goddess. To follow her example, people went into the forest to fetch palm leaves and stitched them together with bamboo sticks.
In Vietnam, dragons are often depicted with the shape of an S. Dragons were also associated with kingship. There is a Vietnamese legend that tells of Lac Long Quan and Au Co. Lac Long Quan is known as the forefather of the Vietnamese people. He is said to have been the son of a dragon. His wife, Au Co, was said to be the daughter of a fairy. Lac Long Quan and Au Co’s eldest son, King Hung, influenced the Vietnamese people to get tattoos of dragons as protection against sea monsters.
For more on the long, rich history behind dragons and their symbolism and usage in modern Vietnamese festivals and culture visit here.
Cuttlefish is a popular seafood, typically served steamed with ginger or light seasoning such as lemon juice or cracked pepper.
Noodle Soup, or Pho is a popular dish often served for breakfast with protein such as beef with rice noodles, bean sprouts, and scallions in a light, seasoned broth.
Roasted Chicken, like many chicken dishes, is a staple in Vietnamese culture. It is typically seasoned with a five-spice mix, lemongrass, and chili and roasted until the skin is crispy/ It is then served with soy sauce. Sometimes, instead the chicken is simmered and served with rice noodles and herbs.
Banh Cuon is an ultra-thin rice pancake rolled with fillings such as mushrooms, shallots, herbs and most commonly pork or some other type of protein. It is traditionally a breakfast food but can be found in food stalls all throughout the day.
Banh Khuc is a rice ball filled with spices, pork, and green bean paste. The rice is held together with cud-weed, and increasingly scarce plant found surrounding rice fields. Because it is hard to find, Banh Khuc is primarily eaten in Hanoi.
Superstition and Spirituality
Superstition is common among the Vietnamese, particularly when it comes to marriages, funerals, or holidays.
On the Vietnamese New Year, it is widely believed that the first person who visits the home during Tet holiday can impact a family’s fortune for the whole year.
- The person who sweeps the floor within the first three days of the new year risks sweeping away good fortune.
- Embarking on a business venture or other such ventures during the holiday often causes people to avoid crossing the path of a woman- which is said to cause bad luck during this time.
The Vietnamese emphasize two traditional family obligations: to care for their elderly parents and then to honor them after death. Vietnamese families have at least one altar for their ancestors. Family members believe their parents will go on to live in an afterlife and that their souls will reside in their altar after death. As a result, every day, Vietnamese people not only lay the table for a meal but they also lay the food on the altar for the belief that those ancestors will have a meal with them.