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Four Popular Food-related Superstitions in Vietnam

ABROADER January 17, 2023 5 minute read

Have you ever wondered why Vietnamese people eat certain dishes on certain days? Let’s learn about four popular food-related superstitions in Vietnam and the interesting stories behind them. See how eating a specific food can bring luck or bad luck to you.

Being part of a community with a long agricultural history, Vietnamese people especially those from older generations hold a strong belief in superstition about luck and bad luck. These days, people have become much less superstitious than they were before. However, some traditions still carry on today like people’s habits. Let’s take a closer look at some common food-related superstitions in Vietnam and explore the reasoning behind them.

Becoming a vegetarian on the first day of the lunar month

internship in Vietnam
A vegetarian meal is not only healthy, but it also guarantees good luck, according to Vietnamese belief. Photo: suckhoedoisong.vn

Vietnamese people go vegetarian (ăn chay) on the first day of the lunar month. These days, most of the locals, whether Buddhists or not, lay down their meat-related products. Instead, they have vegetables and meat substitutes. It’s a cultural belief that – abstinence from meat and various stimulants – during this time will help them obtain good health and peace of mind during the whole month. There is a popular belief that since you are not indirectly killing any living soul for your meals, you are accumulating your good deeds. Therefore you will be rewarded in this life or in the afterlife.

Food to avoid before taking an important examination

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Banana is an incredibly healthy fruit, however, it is considered not good to eat before an exam. Photo: thanhnien.vn

In this particular type of superstition, homophones and the shape of your food comes into play. These features are the criteria that people use to decide which food is good or bad to eat before an important examination. Students must not eat bananas prior to an exam for fear of failing ‘like sliding on a banana skin’. Parents also advise them not to eat squid, which emits a substance that is ‘as black as ink’. The phrase carries the connotation of a black (bad) mark on your test.

Eating squash, pumpkin, melon, and peanuts was also a no-go. The words for pumpkin and melon in Vietnamese mean “stuck”. The word for peanut means to ‘lose’ or ‘digress’. Duck meat and eggs are associated with bad luck since the shape of an egg resembles the zero number.

On the contrary, we consider eating any type of beans good before an exam. Just because bean in Vietnamese is a homonym to ‘pass a test’. And these are some of the most popular superstitions in Vietnam, especially among the students.

Before and after a funeral

The prevalence of the Vietnamese’s superstitious beliefs about the devil is to the point that in many areas in Vietnam, urban and rural, during a funeral, they place a hand of bananas on the dead body in hopes that the devil will not appear.

At the altar, the standard offering consists of three bowls of rice, three cups of tea, and some other distinct dishes. Those in North Vietnam, however, might choose to place a single bowl of rice, a single cup of water, a boiled egg, and some joss (a type of incense) stuck in a bowl filled with uncooked rice.

After one year after the funeral, the family will organize a ceremony with various types of traditional food.

Doan Ngo Festival (worm–killing festival)

Among the many traditional superstitions of Vietnam including the infamous Lunar New Year, Tet Doan Ngo or the worm-killing festival held on May 5th of the lunar month is a widely popular one. The name ‘worm-killing festival’ derives from the fact that farmers. On this day, get rid of all pests to start growing their crops for the new season. Nowadays, the interpretation of this festival is different as not so many areas in Vietnam do a living by farming anymore. The purpose of this festival in today’s society is to ‘kill the insects in your body and the local people got everything down in terms of what one is supposed to eat on this day:

Com ruou

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Com ruou, a special treat in Doan Ngo Festival. Photo: Vnexpress International

‘Com ruou’ or ‘nep cam’, which literally translates as ‘rice wine’ are little balls of fermented rice bathed in wine. In the Vietnamese traditional concept, people believe ‘com ruou’ to be able to kill any parasites in the body. That is why most people have eaten ‘com ruou’ on Killing the Insect Day, in the hope of driving away bad spirits.

Banh tro

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Banh tro. Photo: Vnexpress International

Another special food for this day is ‘bánh tro’, this is a pyramid-shaped cake that makers wrap them in banana leaves. Inside is a mixture of sticky rice and water drained from ashes while the filling is a sweet mung bean paste. Many people also buy leaves and herbs to smoke away all the pests in their family. In terms of fruits, lychee and plum are the two most popular fruits to enjoy during the special festival.

Some superstitions in Vietnam may sound weird but they are parts of Vietnam’s highlights. So how about coming straight to Vietnam to explore more? Because exciting opportunities are always open for 2023! Come on, we’re waiting for you.

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