Vietnam dog slaughterhouses shut on health fears

A dog slaughterhouse is seen in Hanoi

A dog slaughterhouse is seen in Hanoi

May 18, 2009

HANOI (AFP) — Authorities in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi have temporarily closed at least a dozen dog slaughterhouses on fears their unclean conditions may help spread cholera bacteria to people, an official said Monday.

Dog meat is a popular dish in Vietnam.

It was unclear when the slaughterhouses in Hanoi’s suburban Duong Noi would be allowed to resume operations, local official Nguyen Thi Thuc told AFP, without providing more details.

The health ministry said on its website that cholera bacteria had been found in the slaughterhouses.

Cholera is spread through unsafe food.

Eight northern cities and provinces are presently hit by outbreaks of acute diarrhoea, including hundreds of cases of suspected cholera, officials and press reports said.

Communist Vietnam has a longstanding problem with food safety and hygiene.

In March and April last year the country battled cholera outbreaks which hit Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and 16 other provinces. More than 100 people were infected but no fatalities were reported.

Cholera is an acute intestinal infection transmitted through water or food contaminated with the bacteria vibrio cholera. It causes diarrhoea and dehydration and can lead to kidney failure and death if untreated.

Vietnam, Cambodia brace for Mekong floods, crops safe

HANOI, Aug 19 (Reuters) – Rising Mekong floods upstream may cause landslides and deep inundation in Cambodia and southern Vietnam but the seasonal floodwater would also bring farmers good crops of rice and fish, officials said on Tuesday.

The Vietnamese government said rescue forces must be ready to move people from dangerous areas in southern Vietnam, where the Mekong river reaches the South China Sea after travelling more than 4,000 km (2,500 miles) from Tibet through Laos and Cambodia.

Four people have been killed in flooding and landslides in Laos, where the Mekong river has hit its highest level in at least 100 years after several months of unusually heavy rain (For a related story, please double click on [IDnSP192460]).

Cambodia has alerted villagers of rising waters and the authorities have prepared 4,000 boats and life-jackets for the vulnerable areas in the eastern provinces of Kampong Cham and Kratie, the national disaster management committee said.

The Mekong River Commission said the river from northern Thailand to central Cambodia was higher than it was in 2000, when the worst floods in four decades struck southern Vietnam.

“Floods in the Cuu Long River Delta happen every year, so people are used to taking preventive measures for crops and life,” Le Van Banh, director of the Mekong Delta-based Rice Institute, told Reuters by telephone from Can Tho city.

“In the past floods caused problem to transportation and it was hard for children to come to school, but in recent years Vietnam has built protective dykes and residential areas above the flood-peaking level,” he said.


About 20 percent of Vietnam’s 86.5 million people live in the Cuu Long River Delta, the Vietnamese name for the Mekong river, which produces more than half of the country’s paddy output but supplies more than 90 percent of its commercial rice.

Rice growers say they will get extra income from fishing when flooding is high and after they end the summer rice harvest. Flood waters also clean up alum, pests and rats from fields while bringing more fertile soil.

“Since the floods are to wash away alum, we expect the yield of the next winter-spring rice crop to be good, at least on par with this year,” Banh said.

The winter-spring crop, the Delta’s top yielding, produced 10 million tonnes of paddy in April with a yield of 6.2 tonnes per hectare, prompting the government to raise Vietnam’s annual rice exports by 13 percent from earlier targets [nSP283104].


Seasonal floods appeared slowly in the Delta in July, a month earlier than usual. But this week flood waters are rising faster from heavy rains upstream two weeks ago, including the downpours that caused flash floods in northern Vietnam.

“Floods are forecast to rise above the average level in many years,” said Vo Thanh, a meteorologist in An Giang, one of the Mekong Delta’s main rice growing provinces.

Waters are expected to rise to 3.5 metres (12 feet) above sea level at Tan Chau gauging station on Friday, or 0.1 metre below the Alarm Level Two, which indicates inundation and danger of river bank and dyke erosion but towns are still protected.

In 2000, the Delta experienced the worst floods in four decades as waters rose to more than 5 metres, killing nearly 500 people, more than 300 of them children.

Since then the government has launched a campaign to protect life and property, having built 82,000 new homes, relocated 110,000 families or 80 percent of those living in dangerous areas, and opened swimming class for children and teachers.

However, about 30,000 families living near rivers are still facing risk of landslides, according to provincial figures. (Additional reporting by Ek Madra in PHNOM PENH; Editing by Paul Tait)

VIETNAM: Ban on street vendors threatens livelihoods

Photo: Martha Ann Overland/IRIN
A bicycle vendor carries dozens of baskets for sale through the streets of Hanoi

HANOI, 23 June 2008 (IRIN) – For the past decade, Nguyen Thi Lan has risen at 3am to boil up a pot of sticky rice. Before the sun comes up, she packs it into a bamboo basket, secures it to her bicycle and begins the long ride to Hanoi. In the city, she serves up scoops of rice sprinkled with dried pork, peanuts and sesame seeds and on a good day she will return home with $3.50.

Lan has no choice but to do this work ever since most of her family’s rice paddies were “reclaimed” by local officials, she says, and sold to developers. Far from grumbling about the long hours and meagre pay, Lan says the money has allowed her to send her children to school and ensure they do not go hungry.

But from 1 July, Lan will no longer be able to sell her packets of sticky rice in the city because street vendors will be banned from commercial streets. Lan says her family will starve.

“We will all go hungry,” Lan says. “We are poor people. We have no land. We are dependent upon the street.”

Mobile vendors have been an integral part of Hanoi’s street life for centuries. Women in conical straw hats, balancing twin baskets suspended from bamboo poles, are one of the city’s most enduring images.

Selling goods from bamboo baskets and bicycles also provides income to villagers with little education and few other means of support. According to the Asian Development Bank project, Making Markets Work Better for the Poor, an estimated 5,000 mobile vendors – mostly women – operate in the city centre. Like Lan, most are the family’s main breadwinners.

Photo: Martha Ann Overland/IRIN
These women will be banned from Hanoi’s streets as of 1 July 2008

Vendors also provide a service. In a country that has yet to develop a supermarket culture, mobile vendors provide city dwellers with everything from cheap fruit and vegetables to bras and live tropical fish.

To the People’s Committee of Hanoi, however, they are a menace. As the capital modernises, cars, motorbikes, rickshaws and street vendors all try to squeeze through the Old Quarter’s narrow lanes. With shop wares spilling on to the sidewalks and instant hairdressers and bike repairmen to dodge, walking down Hanoi’s congested streets is not for the faint-hearted.

The ban is designed to make the city more habitable, says an official from the Hanoi Trade Management Division, who asked not to be named. “It is to beautify the city,” he said, referring to Decision 02, which bans mobile vendors from 62 streets. “Hawkers are a major reason for traffic problems. We believe that once the ban is enforced it will help improve urban sanitation, food hygiene and ease congestion.”

On the run

Hanoi has no programmes to help mobile vendors find alternative employment. No NGO has taken up their case. These traders do not belong to a labour union. Because they are literally on the run all the time, they are notoriously difficult to organise.

“What will we live on?” asks Ng Thi Hoa, pausing nervously before setting down her baskets. If she stops too long, police can give her a Green Ticket, which varies from 20,000 (US$1.15) to 50,000 dong (US$2.90) depending on the infraction and is supposed to go to a street cleaning and waste removal fund.

Photo: Martha Ann Overland/IRIN
Vegetable sellers will no longer be allowed to ply Hanoi’s busiest streets beginning 1 July

Hoa sells bundles of incense sticks, earning about 7 US cents for every pack she sells. Out of the $2 or $3 she earns, she has to pay 70 cents for a place to sleep – a mattress on a floor in a room shared with other market women. Food and shelter take up half her earnings, the rest goes to her children in her village. “The entire family depends upon the sale of these ancestral offerings,” Hoa says.

But not everyone sees the ban as spelling the vendors’ demise. The status of Hanoi’s street hawkers is very murky, says Paule Moustier, a food marketing researcher with CIRAD, the French institute that studies agriculture in Asia. One regulation calls it illegal and another one taxes it with the Green Ticket.

“The new ban essentially recognises that they can carry out activities but in restricted areas,” says Moustier. By establishing that they are legitimate, it would be easier to organise street vendors and minimise harassment from officials, Moustier argues.

For now, Hoa’s plan is to outrun the police when the ban goes into effect, making working conditions even more desperate. But with all her family’s land gone and two children back home, a life on the run, she says, is better than starvation.

Food poisoning hospitalises hundreds in Vietnam

Hundreds of workers from a footwear factory in Vietnam have been hospitalised after showing symptoms of food poisoning, an employee of the firm and state media said.

A staff member from the Taiwanese-owned VMC Hoang Gia factory in southern Vietnam said “several hundred” had been hospitalised, but the state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper said the number was “almost 1,000”.

“Most of them became dizzy and several others suffered from stomach ache and headache after having dinner of rice with tofu, cabbage and fish on Monday,” in the factory canteen, the staff member said.

Many workers had been discharged but others were still in local hospitals for treatment, the staff member said, asking not to be named.

Provincial health officials in Tay Ninh, where the factory is located, are investigating the case, the employee added.

Food poisoning outbreaks, especially in factory canteens, have become more common in Vietnam with bad hygiene often blamed as the key culprit.


Vietnam’s inflation hits 25.2 percent, highest in a decade, as food, construction costs soar

HANOI, Vietnam: Surging food and construction costs drove Vietnam’s inflation rate to 25.2 percent in May, the highest in more than a decade, the government said Tuesday.

Despite authorities’ efforts to control inflation, including interest rate hikes, consumer prices were 4 percentage points higher than last month, according to the Government Statistics Office.

Vietnam’s inflation rate is among the highest in Asia, and higher food prices in particular are hurting the country’s poor.

Overall food costs were up 42.4 percent from a year ago, driven by a 67.8 percent jump in the price of grain, including rice, the staple food. Housing and construction materials rose 22.9 percent over last year.

Analysts say Vietnam’s surging inflation is being driven by both domestic and global forces, including soaring fuel and food costs. Rapid economic growth and looser lending policies in recent years, which has spurred investment, also have contributed.

The communist government has made fighting inflation its top priority. The central bank raised by interest rates 3 percentage points to restrain borrowing and encourage saving.

In the past few months, the government has also postponed public investment projects and ordered state agencies to cut spending by at least 10 percent.

The impact of these policy changes should be felt in the second-half of the year, said Jonathan Pincus, chief economist of the United Nations Development Program in Hanoi.

“The economy is still healthy, with exports and foreign direct investment soaring,” he said.

Vietnam’s exports were up 27 percent in May from a year ago, and foreign investment pledges reached US$15.3 billion in the first five months of this year, more than double the same period last year.

Still, authorities foresee slower growth ahead. Earlier this month, Vietnam slashed its annual growth target to 7 percent from 8.5 percent.

Story Flavours of Vietnam (+recipe)

Chef Tony Tan is a man of the world. Literally. Of Chinese descent, born in Malaysia, he moved to Australia 30 years ago as a student, and never left. Except to travel the world.

Now running his cook school, Tan is a respected expert in Asian cuisine, including Chinese, Nonya, Indonesian, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian and Malaysian. His school is ranked in the top 20 internationally by London’s Financial Times.

A self-confessed “food nut,” Tan also leads culinary tours of the world, including, this year, jaunts to China and Spain. Next year he will lead a tour to Vietnam, and it was on his radar at Savour New Zealand, where he was teaching a master class in Vietnamese cuisine.

It is a country he loves, and visits at least once a year.

“It is quite easy to fall in love with Vietnam,” says Tan, eager as a schoolboy. “It has a thousand-year-old culinary history.”

He whips out his cellphone to show images of the dishes he has been working on in the kitchens of the Langham Hotel.

There is the muc nhoi thit (stuffed squid or calamari) and ca ri ga (chicken curry). “The two dishes are distinctly different from each other,” says Tan.

The stuffed squid, from the north, is beautifully stuffed with pork, mushrooms and herbs, and cut into delicate slices and served with nuoc cham, a spicy dipping sauce.

The chicken curry, a southern dish, is more rustic and robust, with chunks of potato, chilli and coconut milk, served with a handful of coriander or Thai basil.

“Vietnamese is known for being really light and delicate,” says Tan. “But there is a big difference between the north and the south. The north is much more refined than the south. The north and central areas have an imperial influence, but further south, the food is much raunchier. It is big and tropical, and they go big on flavour.”

The people from north and south Vietnam have a friendly rivalry, not dissimilar to the two main islands of New Zealand. “My friend, who is from up north and very refined, said to me, ‘those people from the south are so vulgar! Their soups are so big!”‘ Flavours are a mix of sweet and sour, with lime, lemon grass, fish sauce, mint and Thai basil the key ingredients.

There are lots of vegetables, with an emphasis on freshness, and side dishes of fresh herbs and dipping sauces. “You get an explosion of flavour,” says Tan. The country is influenced by China to the north, and by its history of French colonisation, as well as neighbours Cambodia and Laos to the west.

The French influence is seen with Tan’s curry, served with a baguette as an alternative to rice and noodles. Like New Zealand, Australia has changed markedly in the last few decades, Tan says. “When I first came out to Australia 30 years ago, there was no coriander. It is amazing how it has changed. Now I can buy fresh pandan leaves at the Victoria Market.”

ca ri ga (chicken curry) Main course, serves four.

“Generally, Vietnamese curries are quite different in terms of their preparation compared to Thai, Malaysian and Indian curries,” says chef Tony Tan. “Although they share some similarities with their neighbours, the Thais and Khmers, these curries are relatively milder and more watery.

However, the following Cham-influenced recipe debunks all I’ve mentioned because it is thick, rich and heady, with the aroma of lemongrass. Serve it with a fresh crusty baguette, chopped coriander or Thai basil, chillies and a salt-pepper-lime dip and it will take you to the markets of Vietnam.”


50g lemongrass, finely sliced
2cm fresh ginger, about 20g peeled and crushed
2 cloves garlic, crushed
20g curry powder

750g free range boneless chicken, preferably thigh, cut into small pieces
Oil for deep-frying
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, finely chopped
1 stalk lemongrass, inner bruised
20g curry powder mixed with 1 Tbsp water
1 long red chilli, deseeded and minced
200 ml coconut milk
400ml Vietnamese chicken stock*
20g sugar
2 tsp or about 10g of sea salt, to taste
1 tsp white pepper
250g potato or sweet potato, peeled and cut into 2cm cubes

To serve:
Handful of coriander or Thai basil
Freshly sliced chilli
Fresh baguette


In a food processor, process lemongrass to a fine powder. Add the ginger, garlic and curry powder and process until the mixture forms a paste. Transfer mixture to a bowl and add the chicken. Mix well and marinate for two hours.
In a medium saucepan, deep-fry the potato pieces in hot oil until lightly browned and crisp. Drain on kitchen paper and keep warm.
Pour off all but two tablespoons of the oil. Over a medium heat, fry the garlic, onion and lemongrass until fragrant, about three minutes. Add curry powder and chill. Continue to sauté for another three minutes or until the spices are fragrant. Add the chicken and cook until it is opaque, about four or five minutes.
Add the coconut milk, chicken stock and season with salt, pepper and sugar. Lower the heat to simmer the chicken, uncovered, for about 15-20 minutes or until it is tender and the sauce is thick.
Check seasoning and add the potato before serving. Place curry in a serving bowl and offer baguette and garnishes on the side. Of course, it is also great with rice.

Muoi Tieu Chanh or Salt, Pepper and Lime Dip
2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp freshly ground white pepper
40ml fresh lime juice
Combine the salt, pepper and lime in a small dish. Stir well and use as required.

*Note: Vietnamese chicken stock is made with cloves of garlic, spring onions or onion and ginger. Vietnamese curry powders tend to be more aromatic with hints of star anise and one of the most popular is Vianc Indian Chef curry powder. Madras or Malaysian curry powders are acceptable substitutes.

Tony Tan’s chicken curry was served with a glass of Montana Terroir Series Riverpoint Gisborne Gewürztraminer 2007.

Vietnam may limit future rice exports

HANOI — Vietnam may permanently reduce rice exports by 2010 and beyond to ensure food security for its growing population, state media reports and government officials said on Monday.

Outward shipments from the world’s second largest rice exporter could be capped at 4.3 million tons a year by 2015 and 3.8 million tons by 2020, according to a report in the state-run Vietnam News daily.

Cutting overseas sales of the staple crop would balance the effects of “the growing population and bad crops caused by natural disasters, insects and inclement weather,” the daily reported, citing unnamed officials.

Government experts stressed that the plan was currently under consideration by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and would require the approval of the government leadership of the communist country.

“It’s just an idea for a long-term rice export policy until 2020,” said Phung Thi Kim Thoa, a senior ministry official in charge of rice exports, when asked to comment on the state media report.

“We are working on a project which would have to be approved by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and then by the prime minister. We are collecting opinions from concerned ministries on this matter.”

Global food prices have surged this year, fuelling supply fears and inflation in countries including Vietnam.

Vietnam has capped 2008 national rice exports at 3.5-4 million tons, down from a previous target of 4.5 million tons, and ordered a halt to the signing of new export contracts until the end of June.

Experts in Vietnam have warned that the country’s arable lands are shrinking fast while the population, now estimated at 86 million, has grown rapidly since the end of the war in 1975 triggered a baby boom.

“Vietnam has lost a lot of arable land to urbanization and industrialization,” said economist Le Dang Doanh, a veteran government advisor.

“There are too many industrial parks, projects, golf courses, and so on. The problem is now how to ensure food security as demographic pressures, the increase of the population, are still increasing.”

World grain prices have sky-rocketed this year, a trend blamed on higher energy and fertilizer costs, greater global demand, droughts, the loss of farmland to biofuel plantations, industry and cities, and price speculation.

Thịt Bò lúc lắc | Wok-seared “shaking” beef on Watercress Salad

More recipes can be found here.

Use both the light and dark soy sauces if you want a little extra deep color. Feel free to dress up the final platter with some tomato wedges.

1 1/4 pound tri-tip (bottom sirloin/culotte) steaks

1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon regular (light) soy sauce, or 2 teaspoons regular (light) and 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce

1 shallot, thinly sliced (1/4 cup total)
1 1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 or 2 pinches salt
3 to 5 cracks black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons water

4 cups watercress, use only the tender leafy parts
2 tablespoon canola or peanut oil

1. Trim excess fat from the steaks and then cut each into 3/4-inch cubes. In a bowl, combine the pepper, sugar, garlic, oyster sauce, fish sauce and soy sauce. Add the beef and toss well to coat. Set aside to marinade for 2o minutes or up to 2 hours.

2. For the dressing, put the shallot in a mesh strainer and rinse under water for about 10 seconds to reduce some of the harshness. In large mixing bowl, combine the sugar, salt, pepper, vinegar and water. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the shallot. Put the watercress on top but hold off on tossing.

3. Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet over high heat. Add the beef and spread it out in one layer. Cook in batches, if necessary. Let the beef sear for about 1 minute, before shaking the wok or skillet to sear another side. Cook for another 30 seconds or so and shake. Cook the beef for about 4 minutes total, until nicely browned and medium rare.

In between shakes, toss the watercress and transfer onto a platter or serving dish. When the beef is done, pile the beef on to of the watercress and serve immediately with lots of rice.
Read Andrea Nguyen’s excellent write-up on this recipe

Vietnam’s farmers face paradox of the paddy

Soaring costs keeping pace with prices as producers fail to cash in on crisis

By the time he realized what was happening, it was too late. Government intervention was roiling the markets, and his local trader was refusing to buy his newly harvested crop. He was stuck with seven tonnes of unsold rice in his storage shed, waiting for his trader to decide on a fair price.

“We are just countryside folks – we don’t understand anything about the price fluctuations,” Mr. Luan said in an interview on his farm in southern Vietnam, surrounded by sacks of unsold rice.

While the price of rice has doubled in recent months, most farmers are benefiting very little – even in Vietnam, the world’s second-biggest rice exporter.

Their revenue has increased, but so too have their input costs – especially fertilizer, closely linked to the price of energy. Fuel, required for pumping water to their rice paddies and transporting their harvest, is another fast-rising cost. Even the cost of labour is skyrocketing as farm workers insist on higher wages because of Vietnam’s record-high inflation rate.

In interviews across Vietnam, rice farmers unanimously reported that their costs have nearly doubled since last year, leaving them without any increase in income, despite the surging rice prices in domestic and global markets.

“Every time the price of rice increases, the cost of fertilizer seems to rise by about the same amount,” Mr. Luan said. “If the government can somehow stabilize the cost of fertilizer, we could actually increase our incomes.”

The 38-year-old farmer expects no increase in his income this year, despite the panic buying and soaring prices of the past week. “Only the traders and the processing plants are profiting,” he said.

Analysts agree with him. “The profits are not in the hands of the farmers,” said Vo Tong Xuan, a rice economist and professor in Vietnam. “The profits are enjoyed by middlemen and speculators who hoard the rice to sell it at a higher price.”

He worries that the Vietnamese government, bowing to pressure from urban consumers, will order a reduction in rice prices. This would impoverish many farmers, since their costs are still rising, he said.

Most of Vietnam’s farmers are unable to benefit from the surge in global rice prices because the government is limiting rice exports this year in an effort to protect its domestic supply. The restrictions are “very unfair to farmers,” Mr. Xuan said.

Those limits, in turn, are allowing speculators to exploit the situation. There is mounting evidence that the latest jump in rice prices was triggered by speculators who capitalized on fears that the export restrictions were a harbinger of future shortages in Vietnam.

Just down the road from Mr. Luan’s farm, another farmer is washing bags of rice seeds in preparation for his next crop. “It’s very hard work, and not very profitable,” says the farmer, 36-year-old Tran Van Binh.

“Look at those empty fields over there,” he says, pointing to former rice paddies that are now covered in grass. “Many people have left their fields barren because they can’t afford the fertilizer and pesticides. The farmers aren’t happy at all. Only the traders are making big profits. That’s the way it always is.”

Mr. Binh harvested three tonnes of rice this spring and sold it for about $625 per tonne, up from about $440 per tonne for his last crop in the fall. But his costs increased to about $440 a tonne, up from about $250 last fall. So his net profit for the entire three tonnes – about $560 – is about the same as it was last year.

In northern Vietnam, the rice fields are smaller and the hardships are greater. Some farmers can grow only enough rice for their own meals, so they have been badly hit by the rising input costs.

“The government should do something to limit the cost of fertilizer,” says Nguyen Thi Van, a subsistence farmer on a small plot near Hanoi. “We need some support from the government. Our costs are too high and my income is falling.”

Another threat to food security is the steady disappearance of farmland. Many of Vietnam’s farmers have been forced off their land to make room for industrial parks and urban developments. By some estimates, as much as 4 per cent of its farmland has been lost to development in the past five years, and 2.5 million people have been forced off their farmland. “I hope this can be stopped or we will face a real dilemma,” Mr. Xuan said.

One long-time farmer near Hanoi said the government forced him to leave his farm in 2006 to make room for urban development. Now he struggles to earn a living as a motorcycle driver, earning just three or four dollars a day. “I’m lucky if I can earn enough to buy a few kilos of rice,” he said.



Some of the factors behind the rise in Asian rice prices, which have almost trebled this year:


With only about 30 million tonnes of rice traded annually, government supply curbs, such as those from New Delhi and Hanoi, have spooked importers, such as the Philippines and Bangladesh, at a time when global stocks have halved since hitting a record high in 2001.


On the Chicago Board of Trade, financial speculators looking for the next big commodity play have helped lift prices by about 80 per cent this year. To a degree, hoarding by consumers has also fed the rise by spurring importers to seek supplies sooner.


In some countries such as the Philippines, production is failing to keep up with demand because paddy land is being overtaken for industrial development, or because farmers are seeking other trades.


In poor nations rice consumption is rising, but this is partly offset by falling per-capita consumption in big countries such as China. Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that consumption in China – which accounts for 30 per cent of world consumption – has fallen by 3.9 per cent over the past five years. But global consumption has risen by 2.7 per cent over the same period.


EAT: Bao-ing to Vietnamese cuisine

From Vietnam to America, and from a student of architecture to successful chef. Chef Bao impresses SU AZIZ no end.

FOR over two decades, ever since he was 15 years old, Chef Michael Huynh (known affectionately as Chef Bao) lived in America.

“I am the oldest in my family. We lived in the south of Vietnam and my father was an architect. My father believed there would be bigger opportunities for me there in America,” he said in his heavily-accented American English.

Well, his father couldn’t have been more right.

It is amazing when you think about it: a boy of 15-years old floating on a boat in American waters, being picked up by American authorities, adopted by an American family and is today a known chef in New York City, running a myriad restaurants of his own.

Eateries such as Bao 111, Mai House and the less expensive Bao Noodles are quickly gaining good reputations.

“I worked at an Italian restaurant when I first arrived (in America). I was a cook for four to five years. In between, I studied architecture,” he recalled.

From architecture to chef?

“Well, it is a useful degree. I do apply what I learnt in college in my job today,” he said.

Chef Bao comes up with new dishes to add to the Vietnamese cuisine on the menu of Imperial Hotel’s Essence restaurant.

Although his Vietnamese dishes have “a twist of modernity” to cater to the sophisticated palates of New Yorkers, he says they are still authentic.

Hmm, how so?

“Well, the ingredients originate from here (Asia). While the style in which they are presented may be fusion, the food isn’t.”

Whichever way he chooses to categorise his Vietnamese dishes, one thing comes through clearly in the overall flavours — the balance of sweet and savoury.

“Yes, it is quite Vietnamese,” he said, sagely.

The clever twists to familiar flavours make for a memorable experience.

The way to judge for yourself is to either try out his recipes (below) or amble along to Imperial Hotel (formerly known as Sheraton Imperial) along Jalan Sultan Ismail in Kuala Lumpur and visit the the Essence restaurant.



Bean curd, as you know, is a terrific source of all sorts of vitamins and goodness.

I shan’t get into it now but I do know that it can also be an acquired taste. Many non-Asians will agree.

Cleverly, Chef Bao has balanced out its pungent fragrance and flavours with sour and sweet. Not to mention spice and everything nice!

For the Fermented Bean Curd Marinade, you will need:

  • 2 cups of fermented bean curd, drained;
  • 2 cup of Aji Mirin or 1 cup of Chinese cooking wine mixed in one cup of water;
  • 2 tbsp of red curry paste;
  • 1 cup of sugar;
  • 2 pieces of lemongrass stalks;
  • 5 pieces of lime kaffir leaves;

Simmer all the above for half an hour or until smooth and let it cool for an hour.

Meanwhile, gather up 1kg black cod fish fillet (or salmon or any ‘oily’ fish). Marinate for 12 hours in the fermented bean curd and then roast in the oven in medium to high heat until golden. Serve with roasted or mashed potatoes, grilled vegetables or fresh diced vegetables.


This dish has an underlying caramelised creaminess. The grilled lamb, due to the marinade, is juicy and fragrant.

The fine balance of the marinade sweet and savoury taste adds a twist to the predictable favours of lamb.

This marinade I have discovered, is not bad with fish or any strong-smelling meats either!

Well, one does have to experiment, you know.

For the Marinade, you will need:

  • 1 tbsp of chopped garlic;
  • 1 tbsp of chopped bird chili or cili padi;
  • 2 tbsp of chopped lemongrass;
  • 2 tbsp of chopped galangal or lengkuas;
  • 10 leaves of kaffir lime, very finely diced;
  • 1/2 cup of samba sauce or red curry;
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil;
  • 1 cup of fish sauce;
  • 4 tbsp of sweet & thick soy sauce;
  • 1/2 cup of sugar;
  • salt, black pepper to taste.

Mix them all really well together and slather onto:

  • 2kg of lamb chops

Leave the lamb to marinate for around three hours before grilling on them on charcoal. Or alternatively, on a griller but bear in mind that nothing adds to the flavour like charcoal does. So it is well worth the cleaning-up!

When that is done, serve with diced pear, as Chef Bao recommends. If this is too sweet for your taste, mashed potatoes and grilled vegetables are fine too.


A favourite of mine simply because it is convenient to serve at dinner parties. It is served cold and can be prepared way before one’s dinner guests arrive.

Furthermore, this dish, like the ones above, balances sweet and savoury ever so nicely. Succulent too!

All you need for the beef marinade:

  • 1 tbsp chopped garlic
  • 1 tbsp chopped bird’s eye
  • (chili padi)
  • 2 tbsp chopped lemongrass
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • salt and black pepper to taste

Mix them up well and gather up:

  • 1kg of cleaned hanger steak or steak

Marinate all the above for three hours and grill on charcoal. Cool them down for an hour before slicing into half centimetre-thick slices.

By the way, if you do an extra kilogramme of beef, simply double the amounts to make the marinade. Keep the beef slices for sandwiches as a lean lunch for a couple of days!

Now for the salad. You’ll need:

  • 1kg sliced grilled beef above
  • 1 cup diced pineapple
  • 1 cup seedless cucumber, chopped
  • 2 cups pomelo grapefruit, sliced
  • 2 tbsp chopped bird’s eye chillies
  • 1 cup Vietnamese mint herbs
  • 1/2 cup of cilantro

Combine all these ingredients and toss them together to make a salsa. While leaving it to marinate for around 30 minutes, prepare the lime dressing. You’ll need:

  • 1 cup of fresh lime juice
  • 1 cup of white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup of fish sauce
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 2 tbsp of chopped garlic
  • 1 tbsp of chopped chili or samba sauce
  • 2 tbsp of chopped lemongrass
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil

Simply whisk them together in a big salad bowl. Once this has become a vinaigrette, get the marinating salsa and mix everything together well before you serve.