Once upon a time, in a time before time, in a time beyond time there was a man named Trong Cao and a woman named Thi Nhi. They were a married couple and they had no children. Her husband’s arguments about not having children were getting harder and harder for Thi Nhi to endure even though she loved her husband very much. One day after a particularly violent argument Thi Nhi decided to leave her husband.
She went to a region far away and started a new life with a new husband named Pham Lang.
Even though Pham Lang loved her greatly and treated her with much tenderness she could not forget Trong Cao. Trong Cao missed Thi Nhi and felt very sorry for his actions. After months of anguish he left his home in search of his wife. He searched the villages and the farms. He searched the mountains and the river valleys. He searched a great distance from his home and after using all of his money he became a beggar.
One day while Pham Lang was in the field chance brought Trong Cao to his house. Thi Nhi recognized him but because of his weakness he did not recognize her. She fed him a good meal and after eating he fell asleep because of his exhausted state. Thi Nhi hid him under a pile of straw to avoid having to make an explanation. When Pham Lang returned from the field he decided to burn the straw to make ashes for fertilizer. When Thi Nhi realized what had happened it was too late Trong Cao had burned to death. Being distraught she jumped into the flames. Pham Lang who loved his wife very much despaired and followed her into the fire.
The Jade Emperor saw their misfortune and made them into the three kitchen gods. They were represented by the three stones of the traditional cooking fire. The two in the back were called ong (mister) and the one in the front was called ba (madam).
The spirit of the kitchen god reports to the Jade Emperor once a year just before Tet. They tell of the way things are in the family. Vietnamese homes will most likely have a small alter in the kitchen to the kitchen god.
This is my favorite piece of Tet mythology. There are others such as the legend of the sticky rice cakes and I like this one best.
Chuc Mung Nam Moi