Zazulete Ynn Anuca Romanța Ion
Everything is blooming in the garden today!
Preparations for a fluffy cozonac with butter, orange zest and Corinthian raisins.
A traditional Easter meal in our family infuses the Romanian tradition with our mixed background (Italian, Greek, Turkish). It usually starts with a series of appetizers, and apart from the Romanian traditional starters such as salata de boeuf, we use the occasion to invent at least one two appetizers each year. This is part of the Easter fun! Aside from the "inventions", the beginning of the meal will usually include a fish, cheese and cold meats platter.
Painted eggs are the star of the meal, and it is the custom in my family to eat them with a delicious roasted beet-horseradish garnish and the omnipresent during this time: spring onions and spring garlic.
As the tradition says, everything coming next will be the little lamb: lamb sour soup (borș de miel), lamb roast and drob de miel.
Ahhh the dessert...finally! :)
Traditional Romanian sweet bread, cozonac.
This year's special dessert creation, my sister Diana's blackberry brownie (totally yum).
Wherever you are, feel our joy and celebrate with us!
Zazulete Ynn Anuca Romanta Ion
Floriile (Flowery or Palm Sunday) mark the beginning of the Orthodox Holy Week in Romania, which follows the story of Jesus since his entry into Jerusalem, when he was received with joy, flowers and palm leaves. However, this celebration is one of the juxtapositions of the Christian faith over the ancient Roman celebration of Floralia, the festival of vegetation goddess Flora, a gathering of fertility rituals and games meant to celebrate the rebirth of nature and the rites of spring. And it is a juxtaposition of an even older Dacian spring celebration centered on flowers and fertility dances and songs.
One such very old custom, after Christianity became the use of willow leaves to purify the body, the household, the animals and the fields. Before the Florii Sunday, the Lazarus Saturday, being part of the story of Lazarus being resurrected by Jesus from his grave, replaces an older celebration of the vegetation god being resurrected each spring. As a combination of both, on that Saturday, Romanians take willow branches to church to be sanctified by a priest, and on Florii Sunday, the willow, an immortality symbol in many cultures, is set to decorate the house, entrances, graves, animal sheds, fields and the beehives (for a good honey harvest). Tradition says that the willow branches are to be kept in the house, for protection, until the next Florii Sunday.
In the city, it becomes a beautiful Sunday when you see people carrying willow branches and flowers and is also the day when approximately 1,5 million Romanians who bear flower names celebrate their name day.
This is also the weekend where many traditional fairs are taking place all around the country, and in Bucharest, one such fair is the Florii Fair at one of the most distinguished and beautiful museums, the Romanian Peasant Museum, where we can usually find a gathering of traditions in many fairs throughout the year, corresponding to major celebrations. The Florii Fair brings about traditional craftsmen from all over the country, and it is always a pleasure for me to visit this fair to stroll among the beautifully crafted objects and culinary delicacies and to interact with the craftsmen
One gorgeous inclusion in any peasant fair that you can find at the Florii fair as well are the intricately decorated ii (the Romanian blouse), textiles such as table cloths, napkins, towels, carpets and other various beauties, where each region can be recognized by their specific embroidery motives and the regional folk costume.
The beloved pottery makes so hard to choose a new addition, but my sister made some excellent choices :)
Of course, one of the most impressive items would be the famous Romanian painted Easter eggs! Each color has a symbolic meaning: red is vitality and power of life, black is immortality, yellow is the sun, blue is the sky and green is the rejuvenated nature.
It would be hard to pass by and ignore the sweets and candies. Childhood sweets like homemade lollipops and traditional bunny gingerbread, all sorts of honey and honey products, wines and oils, cozonac (the traditional Easter cake) and my favorites, which became an addition to our Palm Sunday meal, layered cakes from Maramures. (So hard to choose which one to take home, seeing them waiting patiently in the freezer).
This is not a fair to leave without the liquid gold of honeycomb. The best way to eat honeycomb is to chew it as much as possible and to slowly ingest the beeswax as well, during the process, little by little. Among its many, many health benefits as a superfood, this ritual alone is one of the most powerful anti-allergenic remedies.
A typical Florii Sunday meal
The tradition on Florii is to eat fish and fish products. During the 40 days Easter Orthodox fastening, this would be a day that gives a permission to eat fish (since the fastening is exclusively vegan). The fish as you know is a major symbol of Christianity, in connection to the feeding of multitude by Jesus, the Ichthys and the fish as symbol of the "fisher of men" and as universal symbol of faith and the spirit, in connection to the water element.
On Florii Sunday, the table will be decorated with flowers and willow branches, spring greens and fresh fruit. There are hardly any local fruits at this time of year, other than the superb strawberries, that are just at the start of their season. Usually, the meal opens with a few traditional appetizers, vegan for those who keep the fastening, if not, tarama, for which we discussed a recipe here, would be a must. This time, I prepared the traditional Romanian tarama, which is made of carp roe or a mixture of carp and pike roe (as I did here), served with chopped green or golden onion.
The main course is a good fish, baked, barbecued or fried, usually carp, and the most common traditional meal is fresh fried carp with boiled potatoes, lots of lemon or mujdei, and a salad made of the local greens joyfully joining the markets at this time of year: green onion and green garlic, spinach, stevia, celandine, ramsons, chervil and radish.
Palm Sunday carp with buttery potatoes
This is a very simple and healthy recipe that puts you in touch with a traditional Romanian meal on one of the most beloved celebrations in Romania.
INGREDIENTS (for 6 servings)
One fresh carp
As much potatoes as you want
For the fried fish
If you prefer, you can grill the fish, but the traditional cooking method is cutting the fish in big chunks, flouring them a little on each side and frying them in a pan with a little vegetable oil, on lower heat so that the meat is cooked inside (usually fried for about 15 minutes).
For the buttery potatoes
The traditional method is dicing the potatoes in cubes and boiling them in mildly salty water, until soft when pierced with a fork. Drain the potatoes from the hot water and place them in a pot, adding 2 cubes of butter, salt, pepper and chopped parsley. Mix it all well, to cover all potatoes with the butter. Before serving, you can reheat them to get a little crust from the butter. It is not necessary however, and it is healthier to just serve them boiled, steaming hot.
For the salad
This salad is meant to gather all local greens, as enjoyment of spring, rejuvenation of nature and people, both healthy and symbolical. If you do not have the mentioned greens, just use the local sprouts that come to your markets as early spring culinary wonders.
Mix the greens with olive oil and lemon and serve very fresh.
We liked everything so far (I hope!), but now comes the favorite part: the traditional sweets. Homemade with farm products. Cozonac (traditional sweet bread with lots and lots and lots of walnuts). Yummy chocolate salami. And the most delicious layered cake ever, the honey cake: it has honey dough layers and it is filled with white buttery cream and homemade apricot jam.
For those who celebrate Easter today, Happy Easter! Also, Happy Fool's Day :D And LA MULŢI ANI for all the flower people of Romania!
Some cultural tidbits to give you an insight into the celebration of Lunar New Year in Vietnam.
1. It's called Tet
The Lunar New Year in Vietnam is called Tet. Traditional Asian astronomy and astrology use the phases of the Moon to determine the month which has approximately 29 days. That is why the Lunar New Year doesn’t begin on the same day as the Gregorian January 1st. Usually the Lunar New Year falls between January and February of the solar calendar. Countries throughout East Asia that have used the lunar calendar in the past still celebrate this tradition. On this list we can count in China, Korea, Singapore, Laos, Vietnam (and that’s why we have this article). Japan doesn’t celebrate this tradition despite a history of using lunar calendar. And by not celebrate, I mean the Lunar New Year doesn’t make it into national holidays for the Japanese. However, a part of the population still hosting feasts and parties for this occasion, after work I mean.
In Vietnam, Tet is a period that last from the 1st to the 10th of the new year. Children and adults usually have a Tet holiday week which lasts from 7 to 10 days depends on whether the 7th day of the Lunar New Year falls on the beginning or the end of a week (big up if the 7th day falls on a Friday, we get to enjoy a bonus week-end :D). Although the celebration period doesn’t last long, the preparation for it takes 1 to 2 months to be completed. And that’s what makes this celebration so special and exciting. You should visit Vietnam in this preparation period to see and feel the festive atmosphere: everything is bright and new and there’s always smile, music and laughter on every corner of the streets.
2. Time for make over
The new year comes with new things: new look, new clothes, new house items, new decoration style… Everything should be bought and prepared before the New Year begins, it’s enough to keep you busy for weeks. More over, it renews your spirit too with the joy of shredding the old skin and be a brand new you, to forget about the obstacles of last year and be hopeful for a bright new beginning. The new year brings with it new hopes for good things to come, so you better be prepared for it right? You may be surprised by how a pair of new shoes or an artful figurine can alter your state of mind. Have you heard about the Kon Mari method of tidying? About how you should discard the old clothes that don’t bring you joy? It implies that used items carry with it essence of the owner and you should only keep the items of which you’re content. On the same note, a brand new item is like a bland page that you can write on with whatever hope you have for the new year. By now I should clarify that it doesn’t mean a whole new wardrobe. Usually people only buy several set of clothes to wear on the first days (1st to 4th) of Tet.
For the house, there should be a whole deep cleaning. Feng Shui principles believe that dusty old corners carry negative energy, and that’s a no-no for the New Year. So one week before the 1st, every corner of the house should be wiped clean, from the windows’ frames to kitchen props, the rule is simple: leave no stone unturned i.e. wash, clean and wipe until squeaky clean. Why just writing about this leaves me exhausted, I don’t even hope to understand, really. Every year my family would do this whole house cleaning, and it would always be a fun experience as we team up to do the tasks together. Although exhausting, there was always laughter and lovely snacks.
3. Plants and flowers symbolize abundance
House decoration needs live plants and flowers as they stand for luck and abundance that the new year will bring. So the more plants and flowers you have the better. There are 2 absolutely types of flowers that every house strives to have for the occasion: in Northern Vietnam it’s cherry blossoms and in the South it’s Vietnamese ochna. Branches full of blossoms come in all shapes and forms would be sold at Tet markets, waiting to be brought home to show the style and taste of the house’s owner. Desirably all the flower buds should blossom at the 1st day of the New Year. Since plants and flowers are of great demand at the New Year, growing and shaping these plants is an important business for Tet.
4. Tet markets
You can find at the usual markets all kinds of things for Tet from clothes, furniture, kitchen props to food. This is the time of the year where everything that is worth selling can disappear so quickly that their price just accelerates by sound’s speed. Because there is so much things to buy, people usually return to the markets several times before they can stock up everything they need. It is when a good relationship with sellers can make life so much easier ;).
When it comes to plants, there are exclusive Tet markets just for them. As explained above, plants and flowers are of high demand so the best, most beautiful will be on display 2 weeks before the 1st of the New Year. At these markets, you can find all kinds of plants from the small interior plants to big ones that measure 2 m (6ft5). On the night of New Year’s Eve, if there are unsold plants left, they will be sold at half-price or even at the cheapest price as vendors want to wrap up business and go home before the New Year begins at midnight.
5. New Year’s Eve is when the labor ends, well, sort of
All those times spent on preparation will end on New Year’s Eve, but only at midnight. Since most Vietnamese still follow the tradition of setting up altar for ancestors at New Year’s Eve, it becomes the last of before-Tet rituals. The set up altar has flowers, food and burning incense sticks. The food of New Year’s Eve is usually a whole boiled chicken, sticky or glutinous rice, some sweet treats like biscuits/cake and sweets. The altar is set up from 11pm or 11:30pm to midnight.
At midnight, Buddhist families sometimes will visit temples to pray and to bring home a branch of flowers or a cut of sugarcane sold on the streets as a symbol of luck. On New Year’s Eve, even after midnight, if people choose to go out instead of staying at home and preparing for sleep, there are still many go-see sites. Folks will be able to buy lucky sugarcane or street snacks, often plant-based. Only at around 3 am that people start to go home. Some choose to stay at home though, because there is an important tradition that they observe on the 1st day of Tet.
6. The first visit tradition
It is believed that the first person ever to set foot inside the home on the 1st day of Tet can bring extreme luck to the family. The tradition is called ‘xong dat’ which is an inauguration of the house on the new year. Usually the procedure is like this: First Feng Shui principles and Eastern astrology are applied to find the birth year (or years) that is most compatible with that of the breadwinner of the house. After this element is known, members of the family will consult their entourage to find a person who has this birth year and who is willing to visit their house on the 1st. Most people are happy to do this unless they’re requested elsewhere. This tradition is respected strictly by business folks.
The opposite of this tradition is observed as well, that is if your birth year isn’t compatible with the family, better not visiting their home before the inauguration can take place. Usually people avoid visiting their entourage in the early morning of the 1st . Planning a visit after 10am is ok or better yet, they consult with the owner.
7. Traditional dishes differ from North to South
Now we come to one of the best parts of Tet: the food. Tet dishes range from heavy, salty, rich to fresh, light and sweet. Usually there is a combination of both heavy and light dishes. Since no market, or supermarket for that matter, will open for the first 3 days of Tet, to have enough to entertain guests, large quantity of heavy and rich dishes are made because they are easily preserved. And since Vietnamese cuisine strives for balance in all things, fresh and light dishes are incorporated to provide anti-inflammatory relief. Among the traditional dishes, there is this meat jelly that is a must in Northern Test feast along with sticky rice.
For Southern feast, it’s caramelized pork and eggs and bitter melon soup. (Check out my recipe for this healthy bitter melon soup here). Another important Tet food is savory cake that is made from sticky rice, pork belly and mung beans wrapped in banana or arrowroot leaves. This cake has 2 variations. The original is the square shape cake called ‘Banh chung’ and originated from the North, in the South people make the same cake but in cylindrical form. That is ‘Banh tet’. Both are a must for the New Year and are often served with pickled veggies.
Sweet treats are candied veggies and fruits such as candied coconut, squash, tomato, tamarind, pineapple, etc. Toasted seeds and pickled or dried fruits are also favored as snacks. Apparently people eat and eat again at the New Year. Only after the 4th when visits die down that the meals return to normal.
8. The first days of Tet is for family
The 1st day is always time to visit parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. And since old Vietnamese families are big, it may take 3 whole days to visit all the family, to eat, drink, talk and sing karaoke. Vietnamese tradition values family and relationships between parents and children, and among siblings, so it’s of no wonder that family is a priority at the New Year. It’s a time to honor the beloved family members who have passed away and to reinforce family ties. Usually the 4th and 5th are devoted to friends and neighbors. The shops and stores start to open on the 4th too, so there are plenty of places to go chill with mates.
9. Giving and receiving a small sum of money is a tradition
It’s not about money but lucky money. It’s the giver’s wish for good things to come to the receiver. Usually children receive a small amount of money wrapped in red envelope accompanied by best wishes from adults. When the children reach adulthood at 18, or when they finish school and have a job, it’s their turn to give lucky money to their younger siblings and cousins and so on. This tradition is called ‘li xi’ and it is not limited to children either as old parents and grandparents also receive red envelope from their children and grandchildren. It’s about the red envelope, the symbol of luck ;).
10. Only the best wishes applied
Tet is also the time of giving and receiving best wishes. And it’s not just any best wishes, you really have to give wishes according to the age, profession and preference of the receiver. From good health, long life to success and happiness, the Vietnamese language is so rich that the wishes can be formed as simple, common phrases or they can be developed and rhymed into a sonnet. These sophisticated wishes are often engraved or written down on paintings to serve as gifts as well. At the new year when Vietnamese visit family and friends, they first wish them ‘chuc mung nam moi’ which means ‘happy new year’ and upon leaving, they will give their most sincere, heartfelt wishes. Giving New Year’s wishes has become an art, a savoir-faire that children are taught from a young age so as they grow up, they will continue to celebrate these traditions which add value to their life.
I hope you enjoy the article, although it’s too short to capture all traditions and cultural tidbits of the great Tet, it is a tad too long for a ‘10 things’ article. Let me finish it by wishing you all a new year filled with laughter, joy and strength to rise above any hurdle presents on your journey.
Chuc mung nam moi! <3
by Thao Uyen and Zazulete Ynn Anuca Romanta Ion
Greetings everyone! It’s going to be Halloween soon (very soon!) and we’re doing a special post for this occasion *drums*. Just the idea of ghosts and spirits entering this human world at midnight sets our imagination on fire, and let us guess, yours too. We know that you’re going to throw a party with scary-looking food, or, to put it more bluntly, over-the-top, disgusting all-over-the-place dishes that make people wonder how they can even imagine eating them. And so with that inspiration in mind, we’re going to present to you two ideas for you to thrill your guests while having lots of fun in the process. First, let’s discover this artful recipe with a cute name…
Voma de Fantoma - Ghost (goat) Puke cheese salad
It’s a simple, fast, delicious recipe…yes, I mean it! It’s basically a cheese dip/spread (depending on how moist you want it to be).
I behave ghostly when serving this dish, follow my advice and just let the guests taste it before telling them what “it is” and surprisingly, everyone will want more. The spirit of Halloween!
INGREDIENTS ( for a party of 20)
1 kg goat cheese of your liking
1 kg cottage cheese or other soft, unsalted cow cheese
A healthy bunch of dill, and another one of parsley
30g grated horseradish
Pepper to taste
Optional: 1kg medium hot peppers for decoration and dipping
You just toss everything in the blender. First you chop the herbs and grate the horseradish, then you add the cheese and milk. Unless you have a very large blender, you might want to split the quantities in half, blend them separately and then mix the two halves in a large bowl. You can add more milk if you need it to be thinner. Your result should be a greenish, disgusting voma. It’s best to be prepared 24h before serving, for the tastes to get mixed while cooling. Keep in mind it will get thicker when cooled.
The best way to serve this cheese dip/salad/spread is with hot peppers that are not so hot, the sweet, mild kind. You can also use those to decorate the dish according to your inspiration. As you can see my result is more towards a surrealistic, supernatural version. You can replace the hot peppers with all kinds of fresh or baked/grilled vegetable slices. It’s also great as a spread for grilled bread, a dip for all kinds of meat and veggies, or as a thicker salad dressing.
'Zombie fingers' sausages
It’s an idea for your scary (and not disgusting) plate with zombie fingers and finish off with sriracha or strawberry jam for the children (the sweetness of strawberry jam and this salty zombie-ing bacon and sausage will keep them happy). Here’s how they will look like…
The way to do this is pretty simple because you don’t even need a recipe. You only need hot dogs and bacon stripes for the fingers and for the nails almond slices and Korean seaweed sheet, the one used for Kimpap.
INGREDIENTS: (prepare as many as you like)
Seaweed sheet called gim
First wrap one stripe of bacon around each hot dog/sausage, make sure that you leave a part of hot dog unwrapped to stick in the nail later.
Next heat the oven at 200C and grill the ‘fingers’ for 15 minutes, remember to turn them around if you want the fingers to have an overall ‘cooked’ looking.
For the nails, cut the seaweed sheet into nail shape figures. The nails should look bigger than the almond slices and shorter too. Next smash cooked rice and use it as a base to stick the seaweed nails onto the almond slices (you can just dabble a bit of water on the sheet instead of using rice but it won’t work as well as the cooked rice).
Alright, let’s get to the finishing part! Remember that we left out a part of the hot dog to make the nails? Use a knife to cut out a bit of the hot dog so that we can stick the nails in. Now insert the almond nails into the sausage, you can use the knife’s point and make a cut to make inserting the nails easier.
The next part is your creativity, use sriracha or strawberry jam to spread the ‘blood’ all over the fingers and what do you have there? A bloody scarred zombie hand!
Harvest Day in Romania extends itself to be almost a month :) It usually starts around the end of September and it continues way into October until around the 20th. Also having been embraced by the Romans, along with their own celebrations, its origins are mostly Thracian and focused around an essential local activity around this time: vintage, the harvesting of grapes and preparation of the wine. The whole autumn harvest season is accompanied by festivals, fairs, tables of local products (fruits, vegetables, cured meats and cheeses), dance and music.
We built our own little celebration as we usually do, around the ultimate star of Harvest Day: must (vinum mustum, "young wine"). The must is sweet and enchanting, it contains the whole body of the grape, pressed, with seeds, skin and stems and it is the first gate of the alchemical transformation of the wine. Its name is a perfect mirror of its properties, since must is an elixir of youth, among its many other properties.
A glass of sweet, perfumed must by the end of September connects us with an ancient rite of passage from summer to winter that we share with nature, our ancestors and the future, an opening gate for an important metamorphosis happening around this time of year, that is meant to take us back inside, to preservation and transmutation of resources, and it prepares not just our body, but our soul as well, for this long journey through the regenerating cold.
In Romania, there is an old and widespread tradition to enjoy the must with mutton pastramă (pastrami, which in Romanian is connected to the verb "a păstra" - to keep), as the perfect combination of sweet-flavor-rich with salty and meaty. Pastrama is salted raw meat, brined, then dried and smoked, which can be eaten as it is or, just like we did here, barbecued. This way, pastrama also puts the fire where it belongs, at the center of such a rite of passage, as the hearth. Mmm I am carrying with me the smell of the smoke, the salty taste and the sweetness of căpșunică must until next year.
The main cast was not alone, there has been an entire firey preparation for us to become worthy of tasting them. Starting with hot tea with fallen silver fir needles...
...a very special guest, the amazing Iris...
and continuing with the help from pelin wine (Romanian bitter wine, fermented with Artemisia absinthium, making for a delicate aperitif taste similar to Aperol) and 3D (I think 45° of mirabelles - plums alcohol, a killer! not for the faint of heart), we managed to keep the fire going and enjoy the heart of autumn with a special mujdei, traditional Harvest Day delicacies like sheep cas, urda and telemea (don't despair, I am preparing a surprise when it comes to Romanian cheeses), Mau vegetables pie (recipe coming soon), lots and diversely marinated steaks and meats, among which a mutton chops specialty masterfully marinated by Bogdan with honey and secret ingredients, grilled harvested veggies, all crisp and perfect thanks to our master Grillman Alexandru, fruits, cookies and a divine Lavinia apple pie with ice cream. Sending you our autumnly love! Wherever you are, may your harvest be bountiful.
* Thank you, Fims, for the beautiful photos.
Today is one of the biggest celebrations in Vietnam and it is called Vu Lan. I’m so excited to bring this tradition to you – the first among many more to come. I didn’t mean the celebration is on the 4th September respectively because almost all traditional Vietnamese celebrations take place according to the lunar calendar. Every year, the people celebrate Vu Lan on the lunar 15th July, the day of the Full Moon, and it just happens that this year it falls in September.
Vu Lan celebration originated from Vietnamese Buddhist practice. The Vietnamese Buddhism, although derived directly from the Indian Buddhism, is a whole entity on its own. Buddhism first made itself known in Vietnam around the III and II centuries BC by Indian monks who crossed the sea to deck on the shore of the country. Since then it has grown to become the main religion of Vietnam. From the first day through its long history of influence, the original Buddhism merged with pagan traditions and belief and pervaded all aspects of the population’s life. And that’s why many of our celebrations derived from Buddhist myths and practices, one of them is Vu Lan.
The origin of the story
Vu Lan is an official day to offer respect and gratefulness to our parents.
In Vietnamese there’s an expression to describe the love one has for one’s parents: “hieu thao”. There’s no translation for this term in English, or in French. This moral code finds its origin in Confucian teachings and the Chinese influence. This practice is encouraged and celebrated as a way of life, the right thing to live by and to strive for. By the way, my name is originated from this expression if you haven’t noticed. I should write about Vietnamese names and surnames and their meanings as it’s another interesting cultural tidbit but let’s leave that for another article.
Back to our Vu Lan day, there’s a Buddhist myth leading to this tradition.
A story in a story - the Buddhist aspect of the tradition
The story began with a man named Muc Lien. Our hero, initially practiced another religion, converted to Buddhism and diligently committed himself to its teachings and practices. Like the Yogis training themselves in adverse environment, Muc Lien did the same and achieved magical powers and became one of the best practitioners.
In the mist of this spiritual journey, he found himself thinking about his late mother and how he missed her. Using newly acclaimed magical power (some say it was clairvoyance), he found his dead mother, now a miserable spirit, in hell. Because she did wicked things when she was alive, his late mother was condemned to stay in hell as an evil spirit with nothing to feed, forever hungry. Dismayed by what he saw, Muc Lien stepped down to hell to offer his mother a bowl of rice. But strangely, when his mother tried to eat the rice it suddenly transformed into a blaze of fire.
Grief stricken, Muc Lien came to Buddha and asked how he can save his mother. Buddha replied that Muc Lien couldn’t do it on his own even if he had magical powers or even if his love for his mother moved the heaven. He would need set up an altar on the Full Moon of July and asked for the monks from all corners of the world to pray with him, in doing so he would not just save his mother but would also lift any bad karma caused by seven generations of his family. Muc Lien did as he was told and the truth came to past, his mother was forgiven.
This ceremony, the way to set up the altar, the prayer and also the story itself were called Vu Lan. Since then, Vietnamese Buddhists celebrate every year the Full Moon of July as the day about love and gratefulness toward their parents, the Vu Lan day. People would set up an altar in their home or attend big ceremonies in temples. It doesn’t matter as the ceremony will process in the same way: the altar will be set up with dishes (often vegan dishes), people burn incense and offer prayers. It’s the day to stop one’s busy life and be thankful for one’s parents, either they’re still alive or passed away.
The white rose, the pink rose and the red rose
Well, it has nothing to do with the war of the Roses in England. In this Vu Lan day, it has become tradition for each person to wear a rose on their chest.
This practice is recent in Vietnam, raised by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh in the 60s. The rose is a symbol of love and a noble heart so there is no other symbol more appropriate for Vu Lan day. One wears a white rose if one’s parents passed away, a pink rose if one lost one’s mother and a red rose if both parents are still alive and well. The white rose stands for our love and respect for the ones who passed away, missing them and therefore striving to do the right things in life. The pink and red roses are a reminder to appreciate our parents and love them while we still can.
The pagan practice
There’s another practice which is independent from the Vu Lan celebration but people hold both ceremonies together on the Full Moon of July. It’s the pagan day of forgiven homeless spirits.
The pagan Vietnamese belief, just like those of other South East Asian countries, believes that human is made from two distinct elements: the body and the spirit. And unlike the body which will eventually decompose and “return to sand and dust”*, the spirit itself is eternal. The human world is closely linked to the spirit world and the deeds that we did in the human world, either good or bad, will be judged and rewarded (if good) or punished in hell (if bad) in the spirit world.
It is said that on the Full Moon of July, punished spirits in hell were forgiven and were free to roam the earth. The homeless forgiven spirits which have no one to set up altar and pray for them are believed to will be up to mischief. And so on that day, people set up altar facing their house entry with sweets and puddings as an offer for homeless spirits in hope that they will leave peacefully. Incense will also be burned for this ceremony and when it ends, the children in the neighborhood are invited to “sack” all the treats like the devils they are. I’m just half kidding since the image of children running rodshod over the treats is not so unlike that of homeless spirits sampling the offering. We can call this the Vietnamese Halloween day.
Although both ceremonies are performed on the same day, they are unrelated and often people celebrate Vu Lan more than the pagan day of forgiven homeless spirits. It is because the meaning of Vu Lan etches deeply in Vietnamese culture, not as a religious ceremony but as a way of life. More often than not one’s family is a part of one’s identity.
I hope you enjoy this article about Vietnamese traditions and their layers of meaning and origins. Now please excuse me, I have to go buy myself a rose.
* a Vietnamese description of death
We live in the city, and only now and then we get hold of fresh, all-natural dairy products from the farm, so it has become a tradition to "baptize" them (more like ourselves) with a good portion of ad hoc pancakes.
Romanian pancakes are actually a form of French crêpes, they are meant to be thin and rolled around delicious homemade jams and sweets, or sometimes fresh cottage cheese with nuts or raisins. This time, I tried a thicker pancake, to fit the bio dairy products making the pancake dough fluffy and moist.
You can try this recipe with your favorite milk and butter, but it wouldn't be bad if you were able to try and taste them with fresh organic dairy and eggs. Something has been waiting on the shelves for this traditional moment: my freshly made golden mirabelles jam. I picked them out myself, from our own tree. You can find the recipe here (for red mirabelles), with the exception of experimenting with my wok (yes! for the jam) for the golden ones, in an attempt to provide a surrounding heat for the caramelization process (which can also be achieved by finishing the jam in the oven). It came out beautifully, preserving the tangy taste yet acquiring a caramel "effect".
So here it goes: I had at my disposal completely natural, untreated cow milk ( it came fresh after milking, and we boiled it here) and a magnificent foam of a butter from the same milk, farm chicken eggs and some golden sweetness in a jar.
I was looking for the perfect missing ingredient to make them dance together, the one that compliments all. My reverie took my eyes wandering towards the light and they stumbled on my fresh herbs window curtain...
...and there he was, my savior, my beauty: my Indian basil I had grown from seeds. He will compliment and wed the fresh buttery pancakes with this particular jam. He will bring out the freshness in milky way + eggs, and also make the tarty sweet stand out.
Time to get to work. Ingredients for 4 servings (8 pancakes):
800 ml fresh milk
a small bunch of fresh basil leaves
a pinch of salt
Make a nest for the eggs in the flour and sprinkle them with a pinch of salt. Mix the batter and gradually add the milk. I use a whisker for the entire process. In the end, you should have a batter that is quite liquid, like a thicker milk or similar to liquid cream. Having enough liquid in the pancakes is important for their final fluffiness, and the best way to test a good pancake batter is to actually make one crepe, if it is too tough, you add more milk, or if you feel it is running, you add a little bit more flour by rapidly whisking it in the batter. But remember the best way to cook a pancake is to keep the batter liquid (it will come out melting in your mouth) and to flip it (in order to avoid breaking this delicate baby), which is exactly what I did for this recipe, since I wanted them as delicate as possible.
In the end, add the basil leaves, after mincing them by hand.
Use a bain-marie pot or simply heat water in a pot and put a large plate on top, with a lid. Once the water boils, you can turn off the heat; this is where you will put the pancakes when ready, to keep them warm and moist.
Heat your favorite crêpe pan (a non-sticky one) and add a teaspoon of butter, and when it begins to change color, use a ladle to pour the pancake batter, distribute evenly and when the margins begin to stick out, it's time to flip the pancake, baby! Be daring, and you might catch it back in the pan!
One of the delights of eating pancakes is the rush of rolling them, fingers burning, so that they melt their hotness in your mouth. Here they are, a family tradition that I hope you will enjoy!
Cherry Saturday of Souls (Mosii de vara, also called the Cherry Saturday of Souls) - cherry picking and barbecue. Romanian celebration of the dead before Rusalii (Whit or Pentecost Sunday). Time to feed the living to commemorate the dead and soothe the evil spirits (Rusalii: iele, zane = fairies) (ref. Rusalka ) They are tamed by the food, the fire, good loving thoughts and the dance of the enigmatic Calusari. Thousands of years old Pagan traditions mixing with Orthodox Christian mystique.
Veggie skewers with onion, courgette and bell peppers.
You just put them on the grill, no marinade, and they turn deliciously "chipsy", charred and crunchy. Served with Giacomina's special barbecue sauce (check the next photos).
Tomatoes and shepherd's cheese salad (with olive oil and fresh basil).
Chicken thighs with mix grill dry marinade (rubbed), pork neck rubbed with garlic powder, mildly hot sausages, and Giacomina's delicious barbecue dip: Greek (or other rich) yogurt, garlic, olive oil and oregano, mixed with a little salt and pepper, added to the veggie skewers and salad.
A melting pot experience, in more than one way. Welcome to our Epicurean adventure!