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Tet Festival in New Orleans Full of Vietnamese Food | Where NOLA eats

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It was a foggy night a few years ago when I went to the Tet Festival in New Orleans East. Maybe that’s why I remember it so clearly.

The journey was shrouded in dark fog. It only heightened the revelation in store for us as we entered the festival grounds built around Mary Queen of Vietnam Church. It was like pulling back a curtain on a scene that was bright, happy, vibrantly festive, and irresistibly delicious.

Children roamed the grounds, many equipped with silly ropes, bouncing between carnival games. A gambling tent throbbed with activity; the outdoor kitchens exuded the sounds and aromas of Vietnamese cooking in progress.







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People gather for the Tet Festival at Mary Queen of Vietnam Church in New Orleans in 2022. The three-day festival, which helps raise funds for the church, featured food, performances and music from a variety of artists. (Photo by Brett Duke, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)




Tet is the Vietnamese celebration of the Lunar New Year. The holiday falls on January 22, bringing in the Year of the Cat (or the Chinese zodiac’s Year of the Rabbit, which differs from Vietnamese celebrations in its animal sign this year). The events surrounding it take place over the next few days.

The biggest is the Tet Festival organized annually by the Mary Queen of Vietnam Church, a centerpiece of community life in Village de L’Est, the predominantly Vietnamese neighborhood in eastern New Orleans. This year, the festival takes place from the 27th to the 29th of January.







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People gather for the Tet Festival at Mary Queen of Vietnam Church in New Orleans in 2022. The three-day festival, which helps raise funds for the church, featured food, performances and music from a variety of artists. (Photo by Brett Duke, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)




While encompassing many different facets, food is such an important attraction that the event can feel like one big Vietnamese food festival, with a mix of street food and homemade dishes.

What makes this food special is the way the church organizes itself around it.







Tet Fest celebrates the Vietnamese New Year: see the photos

Traditional Vietnamese staples like spring rolls, banh mi and pho are served at the Tet Festival hosted by the Mary Queen of Vietnam Church. (Photo by Dinah L. Rogers)


In tents scattered across the grounds, a dozen food stalls are run by a different ministry within the church. Members of these ministries prepare and serve the food, often using their own family recipes. Proceeds benefit the church and the ministries’ own programs.

“There is food here that you won’t find in restaurants,” said Vinh Tran, the church’s deacon. “It’s our parishioners’ home cooking.”







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David Pham, left, and Jenny Vu, right, shake pots of pho as the crowd celebrates Tet Fest, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year celebration at Mary Queen of Vietnam Church in New Orleans East, Louisiana, Friday, 7 February 2020.




Several serve pho, the basic rice noodle soup. But one ministry, the Order of Blessed Mary, prepares a soup called hu tieu, which is a regional specialty from the Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam. It has a lighter broth and thicker udon-like noodles and can have a mix of meat and seafood, Tran said.

Another group, a men’s ministry, will be making a goat curry and blood sausage this year.







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A fertilized duck egg, known by its Filipino name balut, is offered as a snack. (Team photo by Ian McNulty, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)


Then there’s trung vit long, or fertilized duck egg. It is best known by its Filipino name duck balut and for its many appearances on strange food travel shows. With all its crunchy bits, there’s no mistaking that you’re eating an unhatched duck embryo when you bite into it.

You’ll find the same staples at different stands, like spring rolls, rice noodle (bread) bowls, and banh mi. But each shows its own style, inviting comparison.

“There’s a little bit of competition,” Tran said. “It’s in their heads. It is not said, but I know that everyone wants to create the best dish.”







Tet Fest celebrates the Vietnamese New Year: See the photos (copy)

Helen Tran blows her noodles to cool them down during the Tet Festival at Mary Queen of Vietnam Church. (Photo by Dinah L. Rogers)


Other recurring festival dishes are banh xeo, a saffron-yellow rice flour crepe stuffed with pork, shrimp and sprouts, and pandan waffles, which are green and have a coconut flavor between their crispy edges.







Tet Fest celebrates the Vietnamese New Year: see the photos

Traditional Vietnamese staples such as spring rolls, banh mi and pho, as well as the popular green pandan waffles, are served at the Tet Festival at the Mary Queen of Vietnam Church. (Photo by Dinah L. Rogers)


Some stalls specialize in desserts, a variety of hot and cold dishes. One of the most enticing and delicious are the fried plantains, chuoi chien, which are pounded well and dipped in pans of oil to emerge with crispy skins and creamy centers, giving that floral flavor of cooked bananas.







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My Nguyen prepares a banh mi sandwich as the crowd celebrates Tet Fest, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year celebration at Mary Queen of Vietnam Church in New Orleans East, Louisiana, Friday, Feb. 7, 2020.




Drinks stalls serve huge amounts of beer, mainly Heineken and Budweiser, and there is fresh cane juice (which is refreshing and, against common expectation, unsweetened).

opening doors







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Members of the Versailles Lion Dance Team perform at last year’s Tet Fest at Mary Queen of Vietnam Church in New Orleans East.




At the Mary Queen of Vietnam Church weekend event, there’s more going on than eating and drinking. A dragon dance kicks off on Friday night, and there are live bands, fashion shows, children’s rides and games, craft stalls and more stalls filled with various games of chance, with people banging fists full of files.

Music programming has expanded to include more popular artists in addition to traditional Vietnamese and pop bands. This year includes No Idea Band (1:30pm-5:30pm, January 28) and Groovy 7 (1pm-5pm, January 29), two popular acts on the regional party circuit.







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MARIA QUEEN OF VIETNAM: People gather to enjoy Tet Fest.




Tran said the church proudly welcomes people from across the community to the festival and makes him happy to see an increasingly diverse range of attendees participating together.







Vietnamese New Year celebrations continue through Sunday in New Orleans

Ed Azemas waits for his food order from Q Tran of the Immaculate Consumption Group at the Tet Celebration at Mary Queen of Vietnam Church. (Photo by Peter G. Forest)




“We try to open the door for everyone. This is not just for our parish, this is for everyone in New Orleans and to showcase what New Orleans East can offer,” he said.

“In these three days, I can feel that people have left their worries behind at the gate. It’s about being together, eating, listening to music, just hanging out.”

Tet Festival at Mary Queen of Vietnam Church

14011 Dwyer Blvd.

6 pm to 11 pm, January 27; 10am-11pm Jan 28; 10am-10pm January 29th

free admission

Correction: This story has been edited to note that Tet marks the Year of the Cat, which differs this year from the Year of the Rabbit in the Chinese zodiac.

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