As a designated treat for Tết , hạt dưa hấu – watermelon seeds, roasted and dyed red for luck – teach children the virtue of a labor-intensive low-yield undertaking.
If the seed is slightly warped, you bite down near its tip, snap back the shell on either side of the opening, and steadily pull on the inner. If the seed is perfectly shaped, you bite down on the sweet spot along the edge for a clean snap. Getting a feel for that sweet spot means practicing on dozens and dozens of seeds until your fingertips are red from the dye, and you long for a candied fruit, a candied anything, really – even ginger (mứt gừng), which you normally associate with chicken broth and braised fish. Or candied yams (mứt khoai) that, faithfully replicated from a family recipe, have the evocative power of a madeleine.
May your days be sweet and may you dream in color.
Shelling watermelon seeds keeps you nicely occupied while the adults exchange new-year wishes. Vạn sự như ý – “May ten thousand things break your way” – seems extravagant, until you are old enough to worry about earning three square meals a day, 365 days a year. “May money flow in like water” – tiền vào như nước – sounds better, until you find yourself pumping water out of a flooded basement. Innumerable watermelon seeds later, you enter the phase in life when good health and peace of mind become the best wishes – Chúc bạn một năm mới bình an, sức khỏe dồi dào.