This is another story submitted by one of our readers.
In Vietnam, there is an annual festival called Tet and it is the Lunar New year. It begins with a ceremony for the Land Genie and Kitchen Gods. The ceremony is called “Ong Cong -Ong Tao” and it falls on the final month of the lunar year. That is usually around the beginning of February or so. My good friend Truong invited me over to celebrate.
The Kitchen Gods Go to Visit Heaven
I was actually pretty excited when Truong invited me to celebrate the kitchen gods. I had not the first clue what that meant or what it would entail but their food is always so good and their family is so friendly, I could not wait.
When I got there, I found out that the celebration is for the Land Genie and the Kitchen Gods to go on a yearly visit to Heaven. There they go and report to the God of Heaven. This is what I am told as I watch and listen to what is going on
Reporting to the God of Heaven
As it turns out, the Kitchen Gods are going to Heaven so they can report about the activities of the household to the God of Heaven. This is why the ceremony is so important. It is obvious that the Vietnamese take their cooking seriously (by the wonderful taste and this ceremony).
The Kitchen Gods actually ride on carp fish to get to Heaven, according to the legend. Truong and his family like to choose red carp and, upon completion of the ceremony, the carp are released into a river nearby. This is considered good luck because the gods also come back on the fish so you want them to be free.
Many families prepare a big feast for the Kitchen Gods so they will be happy. The feasts are basically traditional dishes. Chicken, glutinous rice (Chung), pork rind soup, and more are all prepared to appease these gods.
Perhaps on their way to heaven, any of their dissatisfaction with the kitchen activities would be satisfied by the feast. I asked Truong about this and he said he did not know.
Tradition of the Kitchen Fire
The kitchen fire symbolizes the well-being and the vitality of the family. Though Truong and many other Vietnamese do not know exactly why or how the offerings appease these gods, it is still a strong tradition. Keeping the fire and inspiration of the family alive makes sense.
When you think about it, food is what keeps people alive and, it is good to not only respect the food, but the family who eats it and the place where the food is made. Perhaps Westerners have something to learn from all of this: it is vital to appreciate all the little details.
I know that I enjoyed the ceremony and the food that came after. In Vietnam, there is a strong respect for happiness of the family and this time of year, with the festival and ceremony clearly show this.