Four Popular Food-Related Superstitions In Vietnam

Four Popular Food-Related Superstitions In Vietnam - Student Exchange Vietnam


As part of a community whose long history is rooted in agriculture, the Vietnamese, especially those from older generations, hold a strong belief in superstition about luck and bad luck. Even though people have become much less superstitious than they were before, some traditions carry on today as entrenched habits. Let’s take a closer look at four common food-related superstitions in Vietnam and explore the reasoning behind them.

Become A Vegetarian On Each Lunar Month’s First Day

Many Vietnamese people go vegetarian on the first day of the lunar month. On these days, most locals, whether Buddhists or not, lay down their meat-related products in favor of vegetables and meat substitutes.

It’s a cultural belief that abstinence from meat and various stimulants during this time will help them obtain good health and peace of mind during the whole month. It is also widely believed that since you are not indirectly killing any living soul for your meals, you are accumulating good deeds. Thereby, these good deeds will lead to a reward or better luck in the present or the afterlife.

Vegetarian dishes - Student Exchange

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Avoid Certain Foods Before An Important Examination

In this particular type of superstition, homophones and the shape of your food come into play. These features are the criteria that people use to decide which food is good and which is bad to eat before an important examination.

Students avoid eating bananas before an exam for fear of “failing,” like “sliding on a banana skin.” It’s advisable to stay away from eating squid, which emits a substance that is “as black as ink.” The phrase carries the connotation of a black (bad) mark on your test. Moreover, duck meat and all kinds of eggs, especially goose eggs (trứng ngỗng), are associated with bad luck since the shape of an egg resembles the zero number.

Avoid bananas and eggs before examination - Student Exchange Vietnam

Eating squash, pumpkin, melon, and peanuts is also a no-go. Terms for pumpkin () and melon (dưa) in Vietnamese mean “stuck.” And the term for peanut (lạc) in Vietnamese means “lost” or “digress.”

On the contrary, eating any type of bean is considered good before an exam. Similar to the above ways of explaining, bean (đậu) in Vietnamese means the same thing as “pass a test.” Hence, students usually eat sticky rice with beans, bean soup, or red bean desserts before their exams.

Red bean sweet soup - Student Exchange
Red bean sweet soup – Student Exchange

Foods Before And After A Funeral

Funerals will obviously relate to lots of superstitious matters in Vietnam. Therefore, there are also several food-related superstitions in Vietnam circling this once-in-a-life event. As you can see, the prevalence of the Vietnamese’s superstitious beliefs about the devil is rather overdramatic. Even in many urban and rural areas, during a funeral, they put a hand of bananas on the dead body in hopes that the devil will not appear.

At the altar, the standard offering consists of three bowls of rice, three cups of tea, and some other distinct dishes. However, those in northern Vietnam might choose to place a single bowl of rice, a single cup of water, a boiled egg, and some joss (a type of incense) sticks in a bowl filled with uncooked rice.

One year after the funeral, the family of a deceased relative will organize a ceremony for the first anniversary of the relative’s death with various types of traditional food. Fresh fruit, sticky rice, sweet soup, sausage, chicken, spring rolls, stir-fried vegetables, etc. are some common dishes for this occasion.

Four Popular Food-Related Superstitions In Vietnam - Student Exchange Vietnam

Doan Ngo Festival’s Cuisine (Pest-Killing Festival)

Among Vietnamese traditional festivals, including the famous Tet holiday, the Tết Đoan Ngọ also has a big celebration. Doan Ngo Festival, or pest-killing festival, takes place on the fifth of the fifth lunar month. Its name, “pest-killing festival,” derives from the fact that, on this day, farmers will get rid of all pests to start growing their crops for the new season.

Doan Ngo Festival - Student Exchange Vietnam

Nowadays, the interpretation of this festival is different, as not so many areas in Vietnam are dedicated to farming anymore. Its purpose in today’s society is to “kill the insects in your body.” With that idea in mind, the locals specifically chose what to eat on this day, such as:

Rice wine (nếp cẩm or cơm rượu): These are little balls of fermented rice bathed in wine. In the Vietnamese traditional concept, it is supposedly able to kill any parasites in the body. Therefore, most people have eaten this at the Doan Ngo Festival in the hope of driving away bad spirits.

Com Ruou Rice Wine - Student Exchange

Bánh tro: Another special food for this day is bánh tro, a pyramid-shaped cake wrapped in banana leaves. It’s a mixture of sticky rice and water drained from ashes. Its filling is a sweet mung bean paste.

Banh tro cake - Student Exchange

Moreover, many people buy leaves and herbs to smoke away all the pests in their family. In terms of fruit, lychee and plum are the two most popular fruits to enjoy during the special festival.

To Wrap Up: Food-Related Superstitions In Vietnam

In summary, exploring the food-related superstitions in Vietnam offers a fascinating insight into the country’s rich cultural heritage. These superstitions, rooted in tradition and belief, not only influence dietary practices but also reflect the deep connection between food, spirituality, and everyday life.

From the significance of vegetarianism on the first day of the lunar month to the avoidance of certain foods before important events, these superstitions have been passed down through generations, shaping the way people approach food and its symbolism. Understanding and appreciating these food-related superstitions sheds light on the intricate tapestry of Vietnamese culture and its enduring traditions.

Compiled by Student Exchange Vietnam