Hosting Tết (Lunar New Year) Dinner

Tết. It’s the “festival of the first morning of the first day” and a BIG deal in Vietnamese culture. I have vivid childhood memories of large gatherings with my mother’s side of the family- an endless amount of food displayed on an extra table my grandma would whip out when hosting the whole family, the smell of incense burning in front of an altar with portraits of past loved ones, and hidden red envelopes gifted by my uncles, aunts, and my grandma (“the grown ups”). 

Tết has the hype of Christmas and was also a strong reminder of my Vietnamese heritage. Everyone was always so filled with cheer, conversations in English and Vietnamese filled the house, and the kitchen was crowded as my grandma, mother, and aunts furiously worked together to get food ready for the family. On these special occasions, no matter how many times I said “sorry, I don’t understand,” my relatives would address me, say something in Vietnamese, and chuckle as if we were all in on the joke that I didn’t understand or speak Vietnamese. I didn’t mind it at all- I loved it. I loved that they spoke Vietnamese to me time and time again and didn’t walk around traditions to cater to my American father, my brother, or myself. They always wanted us to join in and thank goodness my mom and cousin were always willing to translate. Lucky for my dad, brother, and I, Grandma was always willing to announce when food was ready… in English 🙂

So as I’ve now become a “grown up” living hundreds of miles away from family and just as my mother- married an American man- it’s never felt so important to continue the traditions of my Vietnamese culture and share these traditions with my husband and friends (although definitely in English). For our first Tết in our first home, I really wanted to go for it. My parents gifted me a wonderful cookbook “Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors” by Andrea Nguyen for my last birthday. My mother mentioned many of the recipes in the cookbook resembled the dishes my grandma made throughout my childhood. This is important because dishes and cooking approaches differ between the vast country’s regions – northern style pho is quite different from southern style pho. 

Along with big family gatherings, the new year comes with some other traditions to start the year off right. My husband and I raced (last minute, of course) to clean our home, stayed up way past our bedtime to be the first to cross the threshold of our home on Lunar New Year’s day (to bring in positive energy), printed out portraits of our late loved ones, and I slowly came to realize… I’m becoming my mother. Keeping traditions alive takes real work, but who doesn’t want to kick off a new year with good juju? One of my favorite memories from this year’s Tết celebration was incorporating my friends into some of our traditions- friends brought (and one creative friend sketched!) photos of their late loved ones and we prayed, lit incense, and laid out a meal for our ancestors on our makeshift altar. Next year, we’ll upgrade with framed portraits!

Every great dinner party starts with a balanced menu

So here it goes, our first Tết dinner menu and some tips for WHEN to start prepping each dish. Because let’s be real, it wouldn’t be a dinner party unless you were stressed about timing and plating before your guests arrive! 

  • Baked Shrimp Toasts (banh mi tom nuong), a French baguette variation inspired by Andrea Nguyen’s recipe
  • Spring Rolls with a peanut dipping sauce (goi guon), a classic Vietnamese staple that you can make your own
  • Thit Kho Tau, caramelized pork and eggs slowly braised in coconut water, served with pickled mustard greens and onions over white rice (thit heo kho trung or thit kho tau and dua cai chau); Andrea Nguyen’s thit heo kho trung recipe is perfect!
  • Store-bought Mochi ice cream… okay, I’m not my mother or my grandmother, but you’re hosting a dinner party and not everything has to be homemade 🙂

Let’s get to prepping

The beauty (and perhaps, challenge) of serving some Vietnamese dishes is that there’s an element of freshness and acidity (rice paper, lime-based sauces) that make preparing dishes right before serving your best option. 

The first dish you’ll want to prepare is your pickled mustard greens and onions, which is traditionally served with your main course, thit kho tau. Depending on how pickled you want these to be, I’d suggest allowing at least 1 full day before you plan to host to pickle your greens (I shoot for ~2 days).

Next, your centerpiece for your dinner: thit kho tau. Savory and tender pork with hardboiled eggs in a slightly sweet-but-salty sauce is unbeatable- especially with the pickled mustard greens and onions. Salty, fatty, sweet, fresh, and sour- it’s a sensational flavorful dish that is so representative of the well-rounded flavor and texture profiles of Vietnamese dishes. 

This dish requires making a caramel sauce along with marination and simmering time so getting started the day before is critical for avoiding the day-of and almost unavoidable hostess chaos. You want to be pouring a glass of wine for your guests AND yourself upon their arrival, so do yourself the favor and plan ahead! I also think the flavors meld together even more the earlier you make this. I followed Andrea Nguyen’s thit heo kho trung recipe to a tee (after the making the caramel sauce), let it cool overnight on the stove (I started prepping late around ~8pm the night before), refrigerated the day of, and warmed the dish back up the simmering over the stove about 20-40 min ahead of when I expected us to sit down to eat. Of course, no meal is complete without white rice. Be sure to make a big pot of rice to serve with this main, but you can save rice cooking for the day of. 

Thit kho on the first night prepping. The color of the sauce deepens into a rich brown sauce after refrigerating, skimming off fat, and reheating over the stove.

Now that you’ve made it to the day of, prepping your appetizers is acceptable. I started app prep by assembling the shrimp toasts on a buttered baking sheet pan. Once assembled, these cute little toasts are super easy to pop into the oven right as your guests arrive. I pop these into the oven when my first guest arrives, which gives us some time to settle in and get some wine poured. The crispness of the baguette slices with the savory shrimp topping is the perfect warm and hearty appetizer!

After prepping your shrimp toasts, it’s time to get your spring roll assembly line set up (in order): dry rice paper, a large bowl of warm water, cooked vermicelli noodles, cilantro, mint, julienned carrots, cucumber strips, and halved poached shrimps all surrounding a large plate or cutting board. If you’ve never made spring rolls before, you may want to build in some extra assembly time. You want to avoid prepping too early because you’ll be in battle with your rice paper drying out. Dip that rice paper in the water and get your spring roll on! If you plan to cut your rolls in half for guests, cut assembled rolls just ahead of serving (maybe when you pop those baked shrimps into the oven) and serve alongside this yummy peanut sauce. Voila – fancy apps! 

And there you have it, you’re ready to host your own Lunar New Year dinner party! There are many other traditional dishes you could serve during this holiday like banh chung (sticky rice cake), gio cha (my mom calls this “Vietnamese baloney,” and I promise it’s more appetizing than it sounds!), and candied fruits. These are just a few of my favorite Vietnamese dishes.

Let me know if you try any of these. I’d love to hear if you have special dishes you share with family and friends during your new years’ celebrations. Cheers to a happy and healthy new year!

Get your dinner party on, friends.


  1. Hi Alex,
    Hoa just shared the link with me. I love your writing here and beautiful pictures. Goodness gracious, you did so much (printed old pictures, lighting incense)… that’s awesome. You’re reminding me to be thankful for my mom & dad. They do everything each Tết for us – decorating ancestor shrine, cooking, etc.

    A quick note to let you know I’ve enjoyed reading your page here. Thank you and best of luck to you and your husband!!


  2. Alex you are terrific, you surprise me all the time. Your comments about the New Year , family history and the dishes you made were incredible.
    With your talents all the way around you should definitely start a food blog. I can’t wait to see what your next cooking adventure will be.

    Love you Alex ❣️

  3. Alex, this was a beautiful window into your childhood and your Vietnamese heritage. Thank you for sharing. Keep it up; you have more to say. I love you.

  4. Wow Alex you make your father very proud and yes you have become your mother which is great because I love you both as well as your Vietnamese cooking delights. Your writing style was extremely well done and I look forward to more to come from the Myers-Cooper kitchen. I wish you and Kyle a lifetime of cooking discoveries and hope you continue to share your cooking adventures with others. Your mother and I are very proud of you and your drive to share your Vietnamese heritage with others. Hopefully there will be more to follow. Be well, Dad

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