Tet Festival in New Orleans abounds with Vietnamese food Where NOLA Eats

It was a fog-clung night some years ago when I headed to the Tet Festival in New Orleans East. Maybe that’s why I remember it so clearly.

The journey was shrouded in misty darkness. This only accentuated the revelation in store for us walking into the festival grounds built around the Mary Queen of Vietnam Church. It was like having a curtain rise on a scene that was bright, happy, vibrantly festive and compellingly delicious.

Kids coursed around the grounds, many equipped with silly string, ricocheting between carnival-style games. A tent full of games of chance pulsed with activity; outdoor kitchens gave off the sounds and aromas of Vietnamese cooking along the way.







People gather for the Tet Festival at Mary Queen of Vietnam Church in New Orleans in 2022. The three-day festival, which helps raise funds for the church, featured food, performances, and music by a variety of artists. (Photo by Brett Duke, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)




Tet is the Vietnamese celebration of the Lunar New Year. The holiday falls on Jan. 22, bringing the Year of the Cat (or the Year of the Rabbit from the Chinese zodiac, which differs from Vietnamese celebrations in its animal sign this year). Events around it play out in the days ahead.

The biggest is the Tet Festival put on annually by Mary Queen of Vietnam Church, a centerpiece of community life in Village de L’Est, the largely Vietnamese neighborhood in New Orleans East. This year the fest takes place Jan. 27-29.







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People gather for the Tet Festival at Mary Queen of Vietnam Church in New Orleans in 2022. The three-day festival, which helps raise funds for the church, featured food, performances, and music by a variety of artists. (Photo by Brett Duke, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)




While it encompasses many different facets, food is such a prime draw that the event can feel like a big Vietnamese food fest, one with a blend of street food and home-style dishes.

What makes that food special is the way the church organizes itself around it.







Tet Fest celebrates Vietnamese new year: See the photos

Traditional Vietnamese staples such as spring rolls, banh mi and pho are served at the Tet Festival hosted by the Mary Queen of Vietnam Church. (Photo by Dinah L. Rogers)


In tents across the grounds a dozen food booths are each run by a different ministry within the church. Members of these ministries prepare and serve the food, often deploying their own family recipes. Proceeds benefit the church and the ministries’ own programs.

“There is food here you will not find in restaurants,” said Vinh Tran, a deacon with the church. “It is the home cooking of our parishioners.”







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David Pham, left, and Jenny Vu, right, stir pots of pho as crowds celebrate Tet Fest, the Vietnamese lunar new year celebration at Mary Queen of Vietnam Church in New Orleans East, La., Friday, Feb. 7, 2020.




Several serve pho, the staple rice noodle soup. But one ministry, the Order of Blessed Mary, prepares a soup called hu tieu, which is a regional specialty from the Mekong delta in the south of Vietnam. It has a lighter broth and thicker, udon-like noodles and can have a mix of meat and seafood, Tran said.

Another group, a men’s ministry, will prepare a goat curry and a blood sausage this year.







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A fertilized duck egg, known by its Filipino name balut, is offered as a snack. (Staff photo by Ian McNulty, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)


Then there’s trung vit long, or fertilized duck egg. It’s best known by its Filipino name duck balut and for its many appearances on weird-food travel shows. With all its crunchy bits, there’s no missing that you’re eating an unhatched duck embryo when you bite in.

You’ll find some of the same staples at different booths, like spring rolls, rice noodle bowls (bun) and banh mi. But each shows its own style, inviting comparison eating.

“There is a bit of competition,” said Tran. “It’s on their minds. It’s unspoken, but I know everyone wants to create the best dish.”







Tet Fest celebrates Vietnamese new year: See the photos (copy)

Helen Tran blows on her noodles to cool them during Tet Festival at the Mary Queen of Vietnam Church. (Photo by Dinah L. Rogers)


Other recurring festival dishes are banh xeo, a rice flour crepe yellowed by turmeric and studded with pork and shrimp and sprouts, and pandan waffles, which are green and have a coconut-like flavor between their crispy ridges.







Tet Fest celebrates Vietnamese new year: See the photos

Traditional Vietnamese staples such as spring rolls, banh mi and pho, as well as the popular green pandan waffles, are served at the Tet Festival at the Mary Queen of Vietnam Church. (Photo by Dinah L. Rogers)


Some booths specialize in desserts, an array of hot and cold dishes. One of the most eye-catching and delicious are fried bananas, chuoi chien, which are thickly battered and dunked in roiling pots of oil to emerge with crispy shells and creamy centers, giving that floral flavor of cooked banana.







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My Nguyen assembles a banh mi sandwich as crowds celebrate Tet Fest, the Vietnamese lunar new year celebration at Mary Queen of Vietnam Church in New Orleans East, La., Friday, Feb. 7, 2020.




Beverage booths dispense immense quantities of beer, mostly Heineken and Budweiser, and there’s fresh cane juice (which is refreshing and, against common expectation, not sugary-sweet).

Opening doors







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Members of the Versailles Lion Dance Team performed at last year’s Tet Fest at Mary Queen of Vietnam Church in New Orleans East.




At Mary Queen of Vietnam Church’s weekend-long event, there’s more going on than eating and drinking. A dragon dance kicks things off Friday night, and there are live bands, fashion shows, children’s rides and games, craft booths and more tents filled with various games of chance, with people plunking down fists full of tokens.

The music lineup has expanded to include more mainstream acts in addition to traditional and pop Vietnamese bands. This year that includes the No Idea Band (1:30-5:30 pm, Jan. 28) and Groovy 7 (1-5 pm, Jan. 29), two popular acts from the regional party circuit.







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MARY QUEEN OF VIETNAM: People gather to enjoy Tet Fest.




Tran said the church proudly welcomes people to the festival from all over the community, and it makes him happy to see an increasingly diverse range of attendees participating together.







Vietnamese New Year celebrations continue through Sunday in New Orleans

Ed Azemas waits for his order of food from Q Tran of the Immaculate Consumption Group the Tet Celebration at Mary Queen of Vietnam Church. (Photo by Peter G. Forrest)




“We try to open the door to everybody. This isn’t just for our parish, it’s for everyone in New Orleans, and to showcase what New Orleans East can offer,” he said.

“On those three days, I can feel the sense that people left their worries behind at the gate. It’s about being together, eating, listening to the music, just enjoying.”

Tet Festival at Mary Queen of Vietnam Church

14011 Dwyer Blvd.

6-11 pm Jan. 27; 10 am-11 pm Jan. 28; 10 am-10 pm Jan. 29

Free admission

Correction: this story has been edited to note that Tet marks the Year of the Cat, which differs this year from the Chinese zodiac’s Year of the Rabbit.

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