We created Salsa and Restaurant as two different companies because we don’t want one to negatively affect the other. Ultimately, the restaurant had to take out a loan from the sauce company to help pay for rent, staff, and suppliers. In a sense, the sauce business saved the restaurant.
Just before Thanksgiving, we shut down completely. It was such a relief. Every day I was wondering, “Are we going to stop until today? What products are going to spoil today?” It was so difficult and cumbersome when you sat in the restaurant for hours without any customers. Our goal was to reopen during the Lunar New Year.
According to my family’s tradition, in the week before the New Year, we make a large amount of this Kho Truong, cook it and add the hard boiled eggs until they are covered with a rich caramel sauce. We scrape the middle of the bitter melon and stuff it with ground pork, green onions and woody mushrooms, then make soup from it. It’s called canh khổ qua and it’s really bitter – it symbolizes eating bitterness away, absorbing it, so you can look forward to the new year. We also have a variety of pickles. Since my family is from the south, we make more tropical and sweeter pickles, like pickled bean sprouts with chives. My grandmother, who is 89, still makes a special New Year’s rice cake: a long sticky coconut rice cake, stuffed with creamy mung beans and a thin slice of pork belly and steamed in banana leaves. We eat with the whole family: my parents, my grandmother, my brothers, my aunts, my uncles and my cousins. We put on our new clothes and give each other red envelopes, called Lucky money, Filled with money for good luck. We bet and play bingo. Although my family is Catholic, we dedicated a small meal to my grandfather who passed away. It is not a way to worship but rather to honor those who have come before us.
When we celebrate the new year we say Tate holiday, Which means, “Every New Year.” It’s all about food. We often feature the Lunar New Year menu at Tân Tân – canh khổ qua, thịt kho trứng, and bánh tét chui – the things we cook and eat together as a family.
This year we will not be able to open a Tan restaurant in time for the Lunar New Year, and we will not meet as a family on Tate’s Feast. But at least we have FaceTime. Where we are today returns to the immigrant mentality. My parents have been through a lot – they faced death in ocean view and prejudices when they got here. Despite the COVID-19 challenge, it was something that my parents’ experiences had really prepared us for. We have learned to be resilient and optimistic, too.
That’s why Tt is so special to us. New year means rebirth and new beginnings, and reminds us of where we came from and who we are. We have survived and overcome many, and we will live and conquer again.