Nice Day For A Vietnamese Wedding (Alternate Title: Strangers In The Wedding)

Today I had the honour of being invited to a Vietnamese wedding. Well, technically speaking, we weren’t really invited to the wedding, in fact, we weren’t even invited to the reception either; we were told to come to the house for a special gathering with a little surprise. Assuming, of course, that the surprise was a special dish, or an individual of honour, we went without extreme preparation. Suffice it to say, I was wearing jeans, a tshirt and sneakers to a wedding where most people were in business casual attire (though, the concept of dress codes is a topic for another day). I suppose the one thing to take away from everything isn’t so much that we were unprepared, but the fact that we were told to come to a family gathering, without any major details. I can understand why that last sentence may sound like a complaint, but I must be allowed to explain that it’s not; far from it actually.

Though, before I elaborate on that aspect, allow me to elaborate on the evening. After driving for about half an hour to the country side, we arrived at the home of the family, situated in a small, town-like compound build (though I might be wrong) around the main house itself. The home is large enough to house a family of about 20 or so, fit with enough rooms and villas (so to speak) to comfortably fit the parents and their children (in addition to their own families), which makes it all the more reasonable to hold a wedding ceremony for over 40 or 50 people there. The house was recently built, though it was structured on top of the grounds of the family’s original home and (now that the children are all grown up and with families of their own, they come to visit whenever they’re in Nha Trang. Assuming that they haven’t left, every Sunday they have a traditional family meal) If they’re visiting, their rooms are villas scattered around the central structure. Suffice it to say, the grounds were more than large enough to comfortably fit the family, and all of their guests (including us).

Moving on from the architecture (as I’m prone to begin with), the evening moved on towards the meal (following the speeches and photos, of course). Luckily for me and the other invitees (who were not familiar), not only did our host sit at our table (to make sure we were comfortable) but her son (when she needed to perform her familiar duties) was also there, to act as our personal Vietnamese Cultural Database, more so than a translator (though, it would be unfair to say that he didn’t help us out with some of the speeches). Thanks to these factors, we were all able to completely enjoy the meal, understanding what to do, how to act and so on and so forth. For example, the Vietnamese equivalent of the colloquial “Cheers” is the phrase of “Yo,” which is accompanied by the same gusto as it’s western counterpart; during the evening, the bride and groom are expected to go from table to table and share a drink with each of their guests. Additionally, thanks to the hearty nature of the affair (it is a wedding, after all), throughout the night all (alright, most) of the other guests came and yo’d with us as well (both a gesture of culinary good will, and a sort of welcome to the clear outsiders, again, us).

The actual food, of course, came in three (expected) parts: appetizers, the main course, and desert, though, technically speaking, each course came with it’s own subdivisions (which were, oddly enough, divided into three). Appetizers began with a sea cucumber soup, that I found to be a bit bland, followed by a plate of deep fried breaded sweet potatoes, shrimp spring rolls (I realize the oxymoronic nature of that last statement), and deep fried squid (I’d like to take some time to mention that I aided in absolutely devouring the aforementioned appetizers; excluding the soup, of course). Finally, to conclude the appetizers, a plate of grilled shrimp in some sort of delicious sauce was served (my Database couldn’t figure out the sauce either, though I was happily stumped).

Following the first round of culinary deliciousness, the main course began with a plate of beef (again, the sauce was unknown, if not a little spicy; I happily swallowed the fire though) with a side of seaweed salad (not just seaweed, obviously, because bacon, and various vegetables were also present on the plate). The next dish consisted of chicken surrounded by a cocoon of sticky rice surrounded by yet another cocoon, though this time it was the fried skin of the chicken. It’s unfair to call the plate delicious, and it’s even more unfair to try to describe the dish because it was just so different. Actually, that’s what I’m leaving it at: the plate was amazing, brilliant, fantastic, and, most importantly, absolutely and completely different. The main course concluded with the serving of a Vietnamese hot pot (which is a staple when it comes to large gatherings; familiar or otherwise). The pot consisted of little more than tendon, ribs, and the subsequent broth, but an additional two plates were provided to the table: one consisting of nothing but vegetables and mushrooms (you can get picky in the comments sections, until then shush) and another consisting of rice noodles. Obviously, to fully enjoy the pot, one must eat everything together and mustn’t leave out any part (meaning that, yes, it all tastes better when it’s combined; very cliché, but then again, I couldn’t complain and I still can’t).

Finally, dinner concluded with the serving of dessert; a plate of fruits, and two plates of sweets wrapped in banana leaf. I honestly couldn’t say what the sweets were, only that, though tasty, I wasn’t particularly fond of them. Though, that’s not fair at all because when it comes to sweets and sweet things, my pallet is a picky and fussy as is humanly possible. Suffice it to say, while I didn’t freak out over dessert, everyone else did.

Now, if anyone’s really been paying attention to the writing style instead of the words, they’ll notice that (for this article) it’s been very touristy and the reason for that is because, quite literally, today is the first day that I really felt like an outsider. Well, at least I did for five minutes before the entire family welcomed me (and everyone else at my table) as their own. We weren’t told that it was a wedding, meaning that (even though we did take something for our hosts) we weren’t expected to bring something flashy or expensive, and certainly nothing for the bride and groom. More importantly, we weren’t expected to overdress for the occasion and, most importantly, we therefore weren’t expected to be on our absolute best behaviour. We were expected to come to the house and take part in the family’s affair as one of their own (well, you know what I mean); not as the foreigners or the outsiders, but as their friends and (for the most part anyway) their family. I mean yes, I’ve been calling the Database the “Database” but he became more than that. He became a close friend and someone to share and spend the festivities with; someone to celebrate with. In fact, it wasn’t just him; for the duration of the evening, everyone at our table and at all of the tables were a family.

However, I’m not saying this because it was a wedding; fun as they may be, I’ve been to weddings where everyone fussed and fretted over tiny details and while people were smiling, laughing, drinking, and dancing, we weren’t really doing it together as a single entity. Instead, we were more like islands, part of a large nation, feeling happy for the Capital’s celebrations while merely being invited to take part (and that was among people who I had known for most of my life). Here, in Vietnam, people that I had only known for two months (and even less when you really think about it) became like family (even if for a few hours) and that’s a type of connection that is very difficult to forge. Sure, you could say that Vietnamese people are warm and welcoming (which they are) and you can argue that their hardships and lifestyles have been forged to accommodate and be happy (again, true on most counts) and you can say that the people we were with were rare exceptions in a cold, bitter world (though that one’s obvious), but frankly, it was a special feeling.

I suppose there’s no real moral to this article and there’s nothing really to take home; there’s no point to get to and there’s no real reason for writing it. Today I had the honour of being invited to a Vietnamese wedding without being told that it was a wedding, a ceremony, reception, or family dinner. I was lucky; I was invited to a home for a close family affair and I was treated as one of their own. I smiled, I laughed, I ate (a lot) and, most important I felt welcome. That’s a feeling, and a memory, that will last a lifetime, and that I will treasure (and contemplate) for a long time.

As always, this has been your Admin; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

  1. My thoughts exactly!

  2. Never thought of it that way.

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