Mứt Tết What? A Guide to the Vietnamese Lunar New Year Candy Tray
A little bit of everything!
During the Vietnamese New Year, celebrators place trays full of candies colored red, orange, and white out in their homes. This tray is the mứt tết, and without it, there's basically no new year. But despite its ubiquity, the mứt tết can look a little confusing between the dustry swirls, wrapped Gusher look-alikes, and miniature dried fruits.
Don't want to look confused the next time you're in a Vietnamese house? We've got you covered, from the candied coconut to the sugar-glazed peanuts.
Mứt tết is 20 percent candied fruits, 20 percent candied vegetables, 20 percent custard candy/Vietnamese Gushers, 20 percent seeds of different varities, and 20 percent candied nuts. During Tết, Vietnamese families display the platters in their living rooms to entertain guests.
Generally, preparation for each mứt tết candy is similar (and super simple). Fruits and vegetables, like coconut and ginger, are boiled, quickly preserved, and cooked with oil and sweetening agents such as pectin, sugar, honey, and/or all of the above.
So let's break it down. What's what?!
Candied Sweet Potato, Candied Ginger, Candied Potato
Combining veggies with sugar sounds like an awful idea, but when boiled and cooked with sweetening agents, the end products are pretty damn good. Among the entire tray, the candied veggies offer the greatest elements of surprise. Candied sweet potatoes are sweet potatoes that are even sweeter than sweet. Candied ginger actually makes ginger look really good. And, in the case of candied potatoes, we get to witness potatoes trying real hard to become sweet potatoes.
Sugar-Glazed Peanuts, Candied Water Chestnuts
Unlike candied vegetables, candied nuts offer the least elements of surprise: they are just as good as they sound. Sugar-glazed peanuts, which taste a lot like Cracker Jacks, are blocks of peanuts bonded together with sugar. Candied water chestnuts are similar to candied fruits and vegetables, except that when you bite into them, you get a softer, more moist texture.
Custard Candy/Vietnamese Gushers:
Custard Tamarind Candy, Custard Apple Candy
The aforementioned "Gushers"
Custard tamarind candy and custard apple candy are sweet, gushy candies with a consistency similar to Gushers. Each custard candy tastes respectively close to the fruits they were made with. Unwrap a custard candy and you will notice immediately that they're bodiless: without their wrappers, they're so gushy that they lose form. But that's all part of the fun. Be careful, because can be kind of sticky, but they're oh so good.
Candied Coconut, Flower-Shaped Candied Kumquat
Candied coconut comes in white, light green and light pink varieties and tastes like dried, sweetened coconut (Surprise!). The candied kumquat, on the other hand, is simultaneously bitter and sweet, with a tart-citrussy and hints of sugar from the coating. Candied kumquat is usually shaped into a flower for Tet, reflecting the traditional usage of flowers as decoration for the New Year.
Candied Lotus Seeds, Melon Seeds, Pumpkin Seeds
Even the seeds are colorful during tet!
It may be because seeds represent growth that they make an appearance of seeds in mứt tết. Whatever the significance though, one thing is for sure: start with one or two and you will be addicted soon enough.
Both melon seeds and pumpkin seeds taste like you would expect, but candied lotus seeds, because of their texture and coats of sugar, taste more like a candied fruit or vegetable than anything else.
To even out the sweetness, take mứt tết with either black or green tea. Also, if you want to grab a tray last minute, you can still find them in any Vietnamese supermarket in Little Saigon (you just might have to wait in a really long line). Chúc mừng năm mới and happy eating!