The five fruits in Ngũ Quả represent blessings to wish for during Tết and other special occasions: Wealth (phú); stature (quý); longevity (thọ); health (khang); peace (ninh).
According to Northern tradition, the fruits are selected for their symbolic meanings in Vietnamese lore, shapes (round), or textures (a fleshy, juicy inner). Their colors should also reflect the five elements of the universe: White for metal (kim); green for wood (mộc); black for water (thủy); red for fire (hỏa); yellow for earth (thổ).
The tray is usually anchored by a cluster of green bananas which, like an upturned hand, holds the remaining items. In the center is a yellow pomelo (for prosperity), surrounded by a white or light-colored fruit (like a peach, for advancement), a red fruit (a pomegranate, for a large progeny), and a black or dark fruit (cluster figs, for good health).
The Southern tradition is to use five fruits whose names when spoken in the Southern dialect approximate “praying for just enough health and wealth”: Cầu (from mãng cầu or sugar apple); sung (cluster fig); vừa (dừa or coconut); đủ (from đu đủ or papaya); xài (xoài or mango).
If on the eve of said special occasion, you find yourself in the third supermarket in a row with no fruit that starts with pom, do not stress yourself out. Choose the freshest fruits available, with gratitude for the land and toil that produced them.