Discover Vietnamese ‘home cooking’ at Tet Festival in Charlotte

Banh Khot, the finished morsel
Banh Khot, the finished morsel

Happy Tet, y’all! This week is Tet, the Vietnamese New Year.

St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in southwest Charlotte offers a tasty opportunity to explore this ancient tradition transplanted to today’s New South.

St. Joseph’s started its annual Tet Festival in 2012. The Vietnamese congregation opened its handsome, modernistic new sanctuary off Interstate 485, Exit 4, in 2004. Today the congregation numbers more than 750 families.

The Festival is a happy swirl of activity – games for children and adults, dragon dancers, stage shows by pop singers from Vietnam including young heartthrob Luu Viet Hung.

Eaters gravitate to the food tent, a 160-foot-long paradise of home cooking and traditional street foods. “It’s a unique buffet, 75 different dishes,” says festival organizer Paul Tran. “Most of them you won’t find in a restaurant.”

You can start with a twist on the familiar: maybe a bánh mì meatball sandwich on French bread, or char-grilled beef kabobs, or chilled salad rolls with pork-loaf filling, or deep fried butter quail.

Then discover something new. My favorite is bánh khot. Women pour batter into special utensils that look like a cross between a cast-iron skillet and a cupcake tray. With careful, quick attention, the batter turns into chubby little pancakes. Golden brown, topped with shrimp and morsels of pork, they disappear in your mouth in two bites.

Tom Hanchett is staff historian at Levine Museum of the New South: thanchett@museumofthenewsouth.org. Don’t miss the Food from Home section of the museum’s “Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers” exhibit.

Tet Festival

Where: St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, 4929 Sandy Porter Road

When: 6-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 9:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday.

Phone: 704-504-0907.