Traditional Flavors of the Lunar New Year
By DANA BOWEN, Published: January 25, 2006
TWO sisters sat at an ingredient-strewn table at Vietcafe, gossiping as they prepared the sticky rice cakes that are adored across Vietnam at this time of year. Lan Tran Cao, the younger of the two and the owner of Vietcafe, a TriBeCa restaurant, spoke of a relative's recipe.
"The way she seasons it is different," she said to her sister, Nga Thi Tran. Clearly, "different" meant not as good.
A cook, Mai Nguyen, walked in and spotted the women mashing dried mung bean balls into banana leaves with great force. "Ah, banh chung!" she sang, and smiled. For her, the bundles contained distant memories of New Year's celebrations in Hanoi.
Lunar New Year begins on Sunday, and in many traditional Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese households in New York, the cooking is under way. Chefs like Ms. Cao find themselves in a peculiar spot at the beginning of the Year of the Dog, poised between a public hungry to learn about the world's cuisine and a community where many culinary traditions are slipping.