Lunar New Year is full of sights and sounds. There is the popping of fireworks to ward off evil spirits, the lion dancers moving to the beat of drums and the red envelopes to give gifts to loved ones. The holiday is the biggest celebration of the year for Asian cultures.
That means food takes on a special significance. For Vietnamese families, Lunar New Year is known as Tet. It is when families gather to share a special meal.
"To us, the Tet festival is all the holidays combined. It's like Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Year all rolled into one," said Tammy Huyhn, chef at Tam Tam in Palo Alto and its sister restaurant Tamarine.
Huyhn runs the restaurants with her sister Tanya Hartley. Their mom opened one of the first Vietnamese restaurants in San Jose, Vung Tau, several years after arriving from Vietname with her family.
It was a small 12 table restaurant that became so popular, she moved to a much larger location on Santa Clara Street, where it has remained for more than 30 years.
"My mom started out as a cook when we first came to America," said Huynh. "That was the only job she could find at the time with little English."
The family still gathers to celebrate Tet together. That includes traditional Vietnamese foods like Bahn Tet, a sticky rice cake that is wrapped in banana leaves. Huynh says they are cooked in such a way that they can be left out for a few days without being spoiled. That makes them perfect for eating during the busy Tet celebration.
Other foods like imperial rolls resemble rolls of money and are said to bring good fortune.
"My favorite dish is pork belly with eggs and pickled sprouts," said Hartley. " I still eat that when I can."
Tam Tam and Tamarine restaurants prepare special menus for the Lunar New Year and bring in lion dancers to entertain their guests.