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What We Talk About When We Talk About Tết Snacks

While Tết is filled with many traditions, perhaps nothing is more central to the holiday than the food that families prepare and share together.

Thịt đông, bánh chưng and thịt kho may make up the core of Lunar New Year meals, the associated snacks are just as beloved, especially for those with a sweet tooth. Saigoneer gathered some of our favorites sugary treats, a smattering of standards certain to grace tables around the country this holiday, for a roundtable taste test. We rated each item out of 10 points and came up with an average score for each mứt.

The opinions may be controversial, but are all in good fun and each take, however hot, belongs solely to the individual author. After tabulating the votes for each item, we came up with our unofficial ranking of the best Tết snacks, presented below from least to most favorite. You probably won’t agree with all our stances, but we hope they make you hungry, or at least inspire you to stuff your face to avoid awkward Tết conversations. 

#9 Hạt dưa | Watermelon seeds

Paul Christiansen, Content Director: I lack the dental dexterity and know-how to effectively crack watermelon seeds. As a hạt dưa dunce, whenever I try and eat these I end up with a mouthful of shell splinters and shattered kernels. I do not like foods that make a fool out of me. [Score: 2/10]

Uyên Đỗ, Junior Editor: I have to spar with you on this one, Paul, I’ve always thought of hạt dưa as the perfect treat for Tết. Not only does it possess a blaringly festive shade of red, but it's also an exercise in patience and prudence — all useful virtues for a prosperous year. Rather than condoning the swift consumption of Earth’s goodness, hạt dựa reminds us to be mindful of the force we exert on others and be a little gentler in our pursuit of core values (pun intended). Also, I love that euphoric release at the reveal of the whole kernel, which I can then pick out and savor victoriously on the few occasions that I manage not to break it. The only downside is the amount of spit involved, which is probably not ideal considering the current situation, but even a highly contagious viral outbreak cannot thwart my love for hạt dưa. [Score: 8.5/10]

Lê Thái Hoàng Nguyên, Staff Photographer: Hate this hard-to-open piece of seed. It has a buttery taste near the end while you’re chewing on it, but I can spend the time opening it eating more ginger instead. [Score: 1/10]

Mike Tatarski, Editor-in-Chief: Never been a fan of seeds of any kind for any holiday in any country. [Score: 1/10]

Average score: 3.13/10

Verdict: Great taste and festive color scheme, a pain to open.

 

#8 Kẹo chuối | Banana candy

Uyên: This candy had so much potential, but perhaps I’m too clouded by my bias against gừng to be the bigger person. The combination of peanut and plantain is already a god-level move, why bother with ginger that overshadows the rest of the elements? Now it’s a one-ingredient show, and I’m disappointed. [4/10]

Paul: Agree! No need for ginger. It’s like when Negav jumped on Văn Mai Hương’s song. Brought down the entire project. [4/10]

Nguyên: Less sweet bananas with peanuts. I have never been a fan of bananas made into food products. [5/10]

Mike: Can we make chuối nếp nướngTết tradition? I’ll start a petition. [4/10]

Average score: 4.3/10

Verdict: Banana and ginger should get a divorce. Their antagonistic bickering is weighing down the family Tết vibes.

 

#7 Mứt hạt sen | Candied lotus seed

Khôi Phạm, Deputy Editor: If you’ve had fresh or simmered lotus seeds before, you wouldn’t put up with this. Well-made mứt hạt sen is probably less off-putting, but bad ones are unfortunately too ubiquitous. They don’t taste like anything but crystallized sugar and a hint of nutty aftertaste. Give me fresh seeds still hidden in the green receptacle any day, or even lotus seeds in the sweet syrup of chè. [1/10]

Uyên: You know how there are songs that you like on the very first listen? Well, mứt hạt sen is the very opposite of that for me. It’s an acquired taste that takes me aback at first because the original flavor of the lotus seeds, which I’m fairly familiar with, has been distorted and replaced with something more complex. It’s got an interesting aftertaste that got me going from “Huh” to “Hmm” to “Mmm” on subsequent tries. It’s a grower, not a shower, and reserved for people who aren’t looking for that instant adrenaline rush. [7.5/10]

Nguyên: Literally just dried lotus seed that has a slightly buttery taste. [5/10]

Hannah Hoàng, Design Manager: This shit helps me survive long conversations with my relatives. It’s small, you can just pop a dozen in your mouth without looking less elegant; it’s very sweet, which can help balance out the super bitter taste from the northern green tea. And it helps you sleep well at night, and I’m all for that. [8/10]

Average score: 5.4/10

Verdict: Overwhelmingly sweet at first, but does grow on you. Best with green tea to offset the sugar.

 

#6 Mứt me | Candied tamarind

Uyên: I admit that I’m under-qualified to comment on this particular item because I’ve never had actual tamarind before, but I do appreciate that the confectioners have put in effort to make the very processed and very wrapped mứt somewhat resemble the fruit’s original form. Taste-wise, it reminds me of the tamarind candies that they often give out at banks and supermarkets instead of change: sour, sweet, nice and simple. Texture-wise, it’s an exercise for your jaw, perfect as a chew toy in case you’re grinding your teeth at a relative’s comment about your weight. [7.5/10]

Khôi: This is fantastic. It looks like the real fruit, tastes like the real fruit, and of course it’s a little too sugary, but what mứt Tết isn’t? I have always enjoyed mứtme every Tết and will probably continue to relish this sweet-and-sour legume for years to come. [9/10]

Nguyên: Mixed feelings. Tamarinds are supposed to be sour, but it’s sweet, too sweet compared to the original fruit. [5/10]

Paul: I am allergic to tamarind. But I ate this (the things I risk for Saigoneer!) and had no reaction. So perhaps there is no actual tamarind involved…Or maybe I’m not allergic after all. [3/10]

Brian Letwin, Co-Founder/CEO: I’ve never eaten a fresh tamarind so I don’t have a good baseline of comparison. Rating it in a vacuum of fruity ignorance, I found it pleasant, but given its level of sweetness, I would only want to consume one sparingly. Also, diabetes. [5.7/10]

Average score: 6/10

Verdict: Surprisingly good, but bogged down by general mứt sweetness.

 

#5 Danisa Cookies

Uyên: Although Danisa cookies are not of Vietnamese (or even Danish) origin, they remain an iconic Tết item in many households. For one, you can never really go wrong with something made primarily out of flour, butter and sugar — some of the strongest pillars of the dessert world. Danisa cookies handle these ingredients with grace, creating perfect bite-sized pieces that come not only in one, but five fun shapes (McDonald’s nuggets only have four, talking about dedication). I can easily finish a box of this stuff by myself without adult supervision. And Paul, put your sacrilegious score away! [9/10]

Paul: I admit, I judged this on a cookie, not a Tết snack scale. Mediocre cookie. I will die on this hill. [4.5/10]

Nguyên: Buttery Swirl Cookie, 10/10. The rest is either too plain or too sugary, 6/10. [8/10 overall]

Khôi: Learning that different Danisa shapes don’t actually carry different flavors is probably a coming-of-age milestone for many Vietnamese kids. A tin of Danisa cookies is a common presence in my room for when I stay up late binge-watching series and suddenly feel peckish. Too lazy to walk downstairs to make instant noodles, I often find one or two cookies just enough to abate the hunger. Despite them all tasting the same, I am partial to the pretzel shape [8/10], because of reasons. The others are okay [6/10 each]. The one with raisins is the devil’s treat and should not exist [0/10]. [5.2/10 overall]

Brian: Pleasant as general baked goods. But when compared to the fresh (or frozen) varieties I grew up with, they are hard to accept as part of the same culinary genre. Probably viewed as the cheaper version of Pepperidge Farm cookies. [5/10]

Mike: I love cookies, whether it’s Tết or not! Though these aren’t exactly the cream of the crop. Still, I wouldn’t say no to a tin of them. [6/10]

Average score: 6.3/10

Verdict: Well-made and, compared to the rest of the candied treats, not too sweet. As mediocre as white bread.

 

#4 Bánh đậu xanh | Mung bean cubes

Uyên: Despite my gigantic sweet tooth, I find bánh đậu xanh almost too much of a good thing. With milled mung bean as the carbohydrate powerhouse and cane sugar as the sacchariferous sidekick, this dessert packs a powerful punch of sucrose that brings forth the wrath of my dentist. I also dislike the powdery texture of these blocks because they easily crumble and leave me scrambling for my fix. The cloying sweetness, though, is not irredeemable since it pairs with some freshly brewed tea, which then becomes the most epic redemption arc ever. [6.5/10]

Nguyên: Stockholm Syndrome is one hell of a drug. Will definitely get choked by this thing again. Though I prefer the silver wrappings they used to do instead of plastic. [10/10]

Khôi: In my experience, bánh đậu xanh has a steep diminishing returns graph. It tastes amazing for one cube and then more like sweetened chalk the more cubes I consume. To that end, I think researchers should explore using bánhđậu xanh as an experimental cure for children afflicted with pica as its mineral texture could probably help wean them off plaster. [3/10]

Average score: 6.5/10

Verdict: Sweetness is once again a curse. The texture is a choking hazard (unless you like it wink wink).

 

#3 Mứt gừng Huế | Candied ginger

Paul: I like this one because it serves to freshen one’s breath. Would be good to keep in your pocket if you’ve been enjoying a few morning cocktails and didn’t want anyone to know. [7/10]

Uyên: Not to sound like an uncultured brat, but I tend to avoid ginger anything like wildfire because it just exudes this distinctly “old-people food” energy. There’s nothing wrong with having a flavor profile that’s apt for seniors’ preference of course, but the herb just tastes an awful lot like a spicy lemon to me, and even the extra layer of sugarcoating doesn’t help.

For the palatal and aromatic intensity it offers, I’d say I much prefer seeing ginger in my bún bò than my confectionary. Next, please! [3/10]

Nguyên: Ginger is one of the best plants to consume in terms of trying to stay healthy. Now make it into mứt, sugar powder it but not too much, and you get yourself one of the best treats after meals, especially during Tết when calorie intake is hard to control. [10/10]

Mike: I’m worried about Paul’s mention of morning cocktails, but as a certified boomer (at least compared to most of my colleagues), this is right in my wheelhouse. Love it when they give you some after a massage while you’re waiting for the bill, though I realize that has nothing to do with Tết. [8/10]

Khôi: Candying is definitely a way to make the sharp zing of ginger more edible by itself, though I much prefer freeze-dry ginger and caramelized ginger to this sugar-dusted version. It is still filled with nostalgia and warmth though. [7/10]

Average score: 7/10

Verdict: A nice treatment to ginger and a practical freshener for after pungent meals. Needs better branding to shake senile reputation.

 

 

#2 Kẹo thèo lèo | Sesame and peanut bars

Paul: Of all the Tết candies, this is one I see most often other times of the year, and for good reason. Peanuts + refined sugar + sesame = ? It’s not a difficult equation: Delicious. [8.5/10]

Uyên: A good crunch is what promotes many treats to the top tier, and kẹo thèo lèo is no exception. The roasted peanut and sesame coating creates a firm outer crust that makes every bite satisfying, while the caramelized sugars just melt in your mouth and dissipate without leaving an overtly sugary mouthfeel, making room for even more kẹo thèo lèo. [8.5/10]

Nguyên: I have peanuts, I have sugar, ahh, caramelized peanuts. I have sesame seeds, I have sugar, ahh, sesame candies. Caramelized peanuts, sesame candies, ahh, caramelized peanuts sesames. Tastes good, questionable nutritional value. But it’s Tết so live a little. [8/10]

Mike: Top-tier Tết snack — nay, just snack in general. These seem to be sold year-round, and it makes sense. If only the King Cakes that accompany Mardi Gras in New Orleans were sold all the time; perhaps my home city should learn something from its huge Vietnamese community. [10/10]

Average score: 8.8/10

Verdict: Texture, texture, texture. It's accessible, cheap, and abundant — what's not to love?

#1 Mứt dừa | Candied coconut

Uyên: Mứt dừa is the "it" girl of Tết’s school of seasonal delicacies, and I’m proudly one of her fans. The coconut shreds’ chewy texture, crispiness, and curly shape — which as curly fries have proved, make everything extra fun — are an absolute delight to munch on. And considering that it’s so universally loved in Vietnam, you can always pretend that your mouth is too stuffed with mứt dừa to talk to derail any incoming discussions about your monthly salary, or worse, how “having cats doesn’t count as having children.” [10/10]

Nguyên: Al dente sugar powder-coated sticks of coconut. Simple and plain but great for any occasion, not just Tết. [8/10]

Khôi: I have a soft spot for mứt dừa as it’s one candied treat that our family always make at home every Tết. My mother has high standards for her mứt dừa and insists on picking the best young coconuts for their tender, willowy flesh. Instead of typical noodle shapes, we slice our coconut pieces in a very particular way so that after caramelizing, we can mold the small strands into flower petals. They are finished with a light dusting of pandan sugar, so they take on an earthy tinge of green. It’s a neat embodiment of the eagerness in the days leading up to Tết, when our kitchen would smell of candied coconut and festivity. [10/10]

Average score: 9.3/10

Verdict: Superb texture and shape. A nostalgic staple for any Vietnamese family.

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