Fresh From the Farm by Katie Malich

Got a tiger in the house?

This past weekend, many Southern Californians celebrated the Asian New Year. On Feb. 12, 2010, the Year of the Tiger was ushered in with fireworks, family gatherings, and feasting. In keeping with the Chinese tradition, I made sure to eat some long noodles to ensure a long life. I’d hoped to meet the new year with a clean house, carefully swept to start the new year afresh. With my crazy-busy life, I fell short of that laudable goal. I did, however, clean out my car. Given the time that many of us spend in our cars, that’s almost as good as cleaning my whole house – right?

In Vietnam, the Asian New Year is called Tet Nguyen Dan, or Tet for short. Traditional Vietnamese keep a family altar in their homes, and mark the new year by preparing a Five Fruits platter, or Man Ngu Qua, to place on the family altar. The Tuesday afternoon Culver City Farmers Market offers many wonderful seasonal varieties of fruit, and was a great place to buy fruit for this tradition.

A red laquered wooden tray is used to display the carefully arranged fruit. While the fruit used represents the five traditional elements and auspicious values and goals, the seasonal fresh fruits used for the Five Fruits platter vary by region. In Northern Vietnam, you’re more likely to find Buddha’s hand fruit (citron) along with, or in lieu of, intact bunches of green bananas. The bananas and citron are placed so that they curve up, permitting placement of more fruit in a balanced cone shape. The bananas and citron are used to invoke protection by calling on supernatural powers and ancestors. Grapefruit, which ripens in August in Southeastern Asia, represents the moon hanging the sky. Fragrant ripening grapefruit flowers are included to represent spring and the growth this season heralds. Oranges are included to represent the delicious sweet food which the earth mother gives children. Hot chili peppers are also included in the arrangement for their firey influences. Pomelos and, in the Saigon area tradition, watermelons, indicate fertility. In the South, coconuts and figs are used to wish one and all a full life. Kumquats and/or persimmons are used in all regions to invoke wealth and prosperity. Frequently, a small, conical kumquat bush and flowering peach tree are included on the family altar at this time. The choice of which five fruits to include is left up to the individual and family tradition. Some platters are even being garnished with the definitely non-Asian blueberry for aesthetic and health reasons.

The Tuesday afternoon Culver City Farmers Market offers a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables (remember the fiery chili pepper which is one of the traditional elements of Man Ngu Qua platters) which could be used for this Asian new years tradition. I’ve even seen Buddha’s hand (citron)
displayed at a market citrus stand from time-to-time.

New years fruit platter

The Tuesday Culver City Farmers Market is held on Tuesdays from 3 to 7 pm on Main St. between Venice and Culver Boulevards.
Katie Malich hopes that the kumquats she purchased will help ensure her health and prospertity in the Year of the Tiger.

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