Abundant goods for Tet
From Paris, the ancient city of Blois is 200 km away along the A10 autoroute. It is the capital of Loir-et-Cher Department, in the Centre-Val de Loire region of central France, where many famous castles are situated on the gentle Loire River. At the Asian Supermarket owned by Vietnamese Mr. Nguyen Khanh Duong, there were three couples from a family, including Mr. Ba and Ms. Nguyet, Mr. Tuan and Ms. Phuong, and Mr. Thi and Ms. Thuy. They were engrossed with their children in choosing and buying essential goods and food for their family to celebrate their reunion during Tet after a busy year.
Although the goods here are not as abundant as at Asian supermarkets in Paris, the Asian Supermarkets in Blois these days sell a lot of foods for Tet from Vietnam, such as Tet jam, sticky rice, green bean, rice paper, dried noodles, Hanoi beer, Phu Quoc fish sauce, water spinach, Malabar spinach, herbs, basil and especially dong leaves for wrapping chung (square sticky rice) cake – the traditional cake of Vietnam during Tet.
Mr. Nguyen Minh Tuan said: “To prepare for the traditional Tet Festival, our brothers and sisters came here to buy Tet goods just like our parents took us to go shopping for Tet when we were young. Today, we come here and trade exactly as we did in the past. It is meaningful for us as it helps us remember the homeland, while our children and grandchildren won’t forget their traditional cultural traditions, their roots and their homeland. In order to buy dong leaves, we had to book in advance with the store, then we buy green beans, glutinous rice, pepper and rice paper to prepare for Tet.”
Mr. Nguyen Minh Tuan. (Photo: NDO/Dinh Tuan)
Mr. Nguyen Khanh Duong, owner of the Asian Supermarket, said: “In Blois, it is not as crowded with Vietnamese people as in other cities, just over 20 households. To prepare for Tet, we have imported many Tet goods from Vietnam. As you can see, there are enough goods here to serve Vietnamese not only in this city, but also in other cities. French customers also love Asian foods, especially things from Vietnam such as packaged spring rolls and dried noodles.”
Preserving the nation’s tradition during Tet
Mr. Ba’s house would surprise many with its 700 square metre garden, at the house itself having been built by the couple after many years of hard working. The home and garden were designed by Ba himself and built in a Vietnamese style. In his garden, there are many kinds of flowers, fruits and some ornamental olive trees that are nearly 100 years old.
In the house, everyone had their own work, peeling off chung cakes, processing vegetables, preparing a tray of five fruits for Tet, and cooking. In a short time, a sumptuous feast was laid out on the table with all sorts of Tet dishes, including chung cake, spring rolls, fried shrimp, meatloaf and sticky rice.
Mr. Nguyen Van Ba, who was born in Vietnam’s Nam Dinh Province, said that he was the third child in a family of eight siblings, but when he came to France, he was considered the “eldest” because he was responsible for bringing his brothers to France, taking care of them and helping them find jobs. Up to now, the families of his two younger siblings are well-off. In particular, Mr. Ba and his wife have two sons who are both intelligent and well-educated, with the oldest child currently working in the atomic industry in France and the youngest studying to become a doctor.
Overseas Vietnamese prepare for traditional Lunar New Year 2020 celebrations in Blois. (Photo: NDO/Dinh Tuan)
Mr. Ba said that he has been living in France for 30 years. In the first days after arriving in France, his family encountered many difficulties and had to do many jobs to earn their living and raise his children. Thanks to their efforts, after many years, his family now owns a quite famous Vietnamese restaurant at the foot of Blois Castle, featuring typical Vietnamese dishes. Thanks to Vietnamese foods that many French know, such as pho , spring rolls and beef noodle, his restaurant is always full of customers. Ba said: “I am a “boss” here but my staff include all my brothers and sisters. We always unite to run our own business and enjoy interests together.”
Not only does he introduce the Vietnamese culinary culture to French friends, customers coming to his restaurant also learn about Vietnam so that they could travel. Each time, Mr. Ba enthusiastically guides and introduces the famous tourist destinations of Vietnam to his customers.
By the fire, Mr. Ba said: “Whenever Tet comes, even though our business is busy, our three families still try to arrange our work and spend our day off to gather together to celebrate the year-end and prepare a meal to worship the ancestors during Tet. The traditional Tet holiday is a chance for us to gather, celebrate and wish each other good things, while reminding us about the homeland, and especially giving us a chance to preserve the national cultural identity so that our children can continue to hold and promote it.”
Because the time difference between France and Vietnam is six hours, when Vietnam welcomes the Lunar New Year’s Eve, it is only 6 pm in France. Every year at the sacred time to welcome the Lunar New Year’s Eve in Vietnam, Ba and his brothers spend time to call home to convey their Tet wishes to their parents and relative in the hometown. Tet is an opportunity for Vietnamese expatriates living far from home to learn about the cultural traditions of Vietnamese people, so that they can understand the meaning of Vietnamese culture.
Celebrating a happy Lunar New Year together. (Photo: NDO/Dinh Tuan)
“On the first day of the Lunar New Year, we still keep the same routine as in Vietnam: my brothers and their children come to my house to offer their Tet wishes to us and we gather around the table to enjoy Tet meals. Lucky money in red envelopes are granted to the children following the national tradition,” said Ba.
Gathering to enjoy Tet meals together, like everyone at home, the overseas Vietnamese in France chat happily, wish each other a warm Tet and review what they had do in the past year to encourage each other in the Lunar New Year. On the occasion of Tet, Mr. Ba sends New Year greetings to his parents, siblings and relatives back home, wishing them a healthy and happy new year.