Four Popular Food-related Superstitions in Vietnam

Being part of a community with long history rooted in agriculture, Vietnamese people especially those from older generations hold a strong belief for superstition about luck and bad luck. Eventhough people have become much less superstitious as they were before, some traditions still carry on until today like people’s habit. Let’s take a closer look at some common food-related superstitions and explore the reasoning behind them.

1. Becoming a vegetarian on first day of the lunar month

A vegetarian meal is not only healthy, it also guarantees good luck, according to Vietnamese belief. Photo:

Vietnamese people go vegetarian (ăn chay) for the first day of the lunar month. On these days, most of 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 your good deeds and therefore will be rewarded in this life or in the after-life.

2. Here’s a list of what food to avoid before taking an important examination

Banana is an incredibly healthy fruit, however it is considered not good to eat before an exam. Photo:

In this particular type of superstition, homophones and the shape of your food comes into play. These features are the criteria that people use to decide which food is good and what is bad to eat before an important examination. Students are restrained from eating bananas prior to an exam for fear of failing ‘like sliding on a banana skin’. They are also advised eating squid, which when disturbed, emit a substance that is ‘as black as ink’. The phrase carries the connotation of a black (bad) mark on your test.

Eating squash, pumpkin, melon and peanuts was also a no-go. The words for pumpkin and melon in Vietnamese  mean “stuck” and the word for peanut means to be ‘lost’ or ‘digress’. Duck meat and eggs are associated with bad luck since the shape of an egg resembles the zero number.

On the contrary, eating any type of beans is considered good before an exam since bean in Vietnamese means the same thing with to ‘pass a test’.

3. Before and after a funeral

The prevalence of the Vietnamese’s superstitious beliefs about the devil is to the point that in many areas in Vietnam, urban and rural, during a funeral, a hand of bananas is placed 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. Those in North Vietnam, however, 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.

After one year since the funeral, the family with a deceased one is supposed to organize a ceremony for the first anniversary of the relative’s death with various types of traditional food.

4. Doan Ngo Fetival (worm – killing festival)

Among the many traditional festivals of Vietnam including the infamous Lunar New Year, Tet Doan Ngo or worm killing festival held on the May 5th of the lunar month, is a widely celebrated one. The name ‘worm-killing festival’ derives from the fact that farmers, on this day, get rid of all pests to start growing their crops for the new season. Nowadays, the interpretation of this festival is different as not so many areas in Vietnam are dedicated to farming anymore. The purpose of this festival in today’s society is to ‘kill the insects in your body’ and the local people got everything down in terms of what one is supposed to eat on this day:

Com ruou, a special treat in Doan Ngo Festival. Photo: Vnexpress International

‘Com ruou’ or ‘nep cam’, which literally translates as ‘rice wine’ are little balls of fermented rice bathed in wine. In the Vietnamese traditional concept, ‘com ruou’ is believed to be able to kill any parasites in the body. That is why mostly people have eaten ‘com ruou’ on Killing the Insect Day, in the hope of driving away bad spirits.

Banh tro. Photo: Vnexpress International

Another special food for this day is called ‘bánh tro’, this is a pyramid-shaped cake wrapped in banana leaves and made from a mixture of sticky rice and water drained from ashes while the filling is a sweet mung bean paste. Many people also buy leaves and herbs to smoke away all the pests in their family. In terms of fruist, lychee and plum are two most popular fruits to enjoy during the special festival.