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Dec 31 2011

Banana bulbs by choice

banana bulbs by choice

The banana bulb salad is an amazing dish made from the humble banana bulb, a loathed wartime staple

Bananas are very popular in Vietnam, used both raw and as integral components of many appetizing dishes. With the right ingredients, even their coarse bulbs can be the basis of tasty meals.

During the wars more than 50 years ago, when our grandparents were starving in some of the country’s richest farmland, the Red River Delta, banana bulbs were among the main foods to help fill the stomach. There was only one recipe for them: boiling. The bulbs were not tasty at all, but they and their neighbors had no choice.

I remember that just some 30 years ago, I grew sick of the boiled banana bulbs that we had to eat between crops. We were growing rice but never earned enough money to eat properly because of natural disasters and lack of farming technology.

Our family of five would eat boiled banana bulbs every dinner in March and August, when we would run out of rice and the new crop was yet to be harvested.

A dish of banana bulbs tasted flat and a little acrid, and we knew that there was no nutrition in it. Yet, had we not eaten it, we could have died of starvation.

My grandparents often recalled their deprived childhood during the 1940s, when thousands of people died from hunger as the French and Japanese forces took all their land to grow jute and cotton.

“Back then, we had to fight for a piece of banana bulb,” my grandmother would tell me whenever I refused to eat any more of my dinner.

Life slowly improved so banana bulbs were used to feed the pigs instead of us. And now as pigs have their own instant feed, we have gradually forgotten about the bulbs.

However, people nowadays have created some amazing dishes from this plain, traditional ingredient. Banana bulb salad and simmered banana bulb with pork ribs or eel or stewed with snails are some of the most popular meals that women in certain northern provinces still cook for their families.

We will have the chance to try one of the dishes if we travel to Phu Tho, Hanoi, or of course Ninh Binh, my home province.

These dishes require a lot of spices but are quite simple to make.

In all the dishes with banana bulb, they always use the tender part of the bulb, slice it thinly and soak the slices in water mixed with some vinegar to keep the bulb pieces white.

To make the simmered dishes, they mix the bulb pieces with pork ribs, or eel or snail, and then add shrimp paste, seasoning, salt, onion, chili, pig fat. Then they pour some water into the pot, put it on the stove, and simmer for 30-45 minutes.

While the simmered dishes have a buttery and fatty taste, the salad is really light. For this, the banana bulbs are cut into long, thin strips and boiled. The strips are then mixed with roasted peanuts, thinly sliced boiled pork, boiled shrimp, shrimp paste, salt, sugar, and herbs. The flavor is something else.

Dec 30 2011

Balloon to fly on Nha Trang coastal street during Lunar New Year

balloon to fly on nha trang coastal street during lunar new year

Visitors to the resort town of
Nha Trang
in January for the Lunar New Year Festival (


) will have the opportunity to enjoy a view of the bay from a balloon floating 150 meters high.

The balloon, 22 meters in diameter, will be held by cable wire in an area of 3,000 square meters along the seashore on Pham Van Dong Street. It can hold up to 30 people at a time.

The Hon Tam Resort bought the balloon from France at 1.2 million euros (US$1.57 million).

Balloon flights were first offered at Hon Tam Island in February last year, charging each person $10 for a 15-20-minute flight with French trained pilots.

Dec 30 2011

More trouble ahead, economists warn

more trouble ahead economists warn

Bringing inflation down to single digits easier said than done

A man pulls boxes of goods at a market in
Ho Chi Minh City in October. The government said it will continue to give priority to controlling inflation and stabilizing the economy in 2012.

Vietnam faces a difficult year ahead and is unlikely to be able to keep inflation to below 10 percent, economists say, warning of arduous global economic conditions in 2012.

Bringing inflation from around 19 percent at present to single digits within a year is not a simple task, and will in fact be a “miracle” if it is achieved, they said.

Pham Chi Lan, a former government advisor, said among the economic challenges that Vietnam is likely to face in 2012, inflation will be the toughest.

She said despite tightened monetary polices, inflation was not effectively controlled. Annual inflation forecasts have been revised several times in 2011, eventually straying quite far from the original target, which was set at just 7 percent.

“The problem was that the tightening of monetary policy in 2011 was not accompanied by fiscal tightening. It didn’t bring about positive results because the government’s spending was still too large,” she said.

Economist Nguyen Minh Phong from the Hanoi Socioeconomic Research Institute said Vietnam’s economy will continue to be under pressure from the global economic recession and the difficulties it has to face can be even worse than predicted.

Inflation and interest rates may remain high while banks can face rising bad debts and liquidity problems, Phong said, adding that the exchange rate and gold prices are not stable yet.

“Although there have been signs of credit being eased by banks, many obstacles hindering production and business activities remain,” he said. “The risk of macroeconomic instability can grow into a serious challenge without aggressive and effective measures.”

As the government plans to pursue an anti-inflationary monetary policy, it would not be easy to obtain loans, particularly large ones, he said.

Commercial banks have liquidity problems of their own, he said. When banks pressure property developers to pay debts, it may cause home prices to fall sharply. In the end, declines in housing values would hurt the banks themselves since the loans are also backed by the same properties as collateral.

“Economists are now worried about a second wave of global economic crisis that can come in 2012,” Phong said.

He noted that economic difficulties and risks faced by Vietnam next year can discourage necessary reforms.

The government announced a plan to restructure the economy in October, identifying reforms in public investment, state-owned enterprises and the banking sector as priorities for 2012.

Another respected economist, Le Dang Doanh, said the restructuring plan came amid concerns that the global economy could worsen next year, undermined by the Eurozone crisis and the slowdown in the US and China.

The restructuring is almost just a plan now, without anything concrete emerging yet, he said.

Doanh said the economic growth target of 6.5 percent will be very difficult to meet.

But Lan believed the goal was within reach, saying export growth will be strong enough to drive the economy despite unfavorable external factors.

She said the restructuring can be tough for the economy but at the end of the day it will benefit businesses.

“I think businesses have to withstand these tough times first before the economy is improved in a more sustainable way. They should not be pessimistic,” Lan said.

“The economic restructuring will eventually create opportunities for businesses, when the economy gets back to the right orbit with fairer and more transparent conditions,” she said. “Those who have a good foundation for development will be able to make use of the opportunities arising from the restructuring.”

For the government, one of the priorities for next year should be dealing with public investment, she said.

Once the government’s investment has been cut back, more financial resources will be available for businesses, Lan said, adding that private companies are actually contributing the most to the economy.

Doanh agreed that reducing public investment will help allow capital to flow to manufacturing and agricultural sectors. Effective business projects will then enhance the efficient use of credit, he said.


The Politburo, the policymaking body of the Party, aims to create a “fair business environment” for entrepreneurs in the country as it recognizes their importance in the economy, according to a resolution on the government’s website.

The nation will make socio-economic development plans public and “transparent” to help reduce business risks for entrepreneurs, according to the Politburo statement dated December 16. It also encourages an increase in the number of medium-sized firms as well as consolidation and merging of companies in order to build strong brands capable of competing regionally by 2020, the release said.

“It affirms that Vietnam respects the role of different economic sectors,” including private businesses, Nguyen Duc Kien, deputy head of the National Assembly’s economic committee, said by phone from Hanoi on Monday.

The resolution is the Politburo’s first related to entrepreneurs, Kien said. The move further highlights the growing influence of entrepreneurs in the economy, after the nation in January officially allowed private business owners into the Party for the first time.

The country seeks to “build a large and strong group of entrepreneurs who have national spirit, political awareness, business culture, high social responsibility,” and good management skills, the statement said. (Bloomberg)

Dec 30 2011

14 ministries involved with business rated ‘above average’

14 ministries involved with business rated %e2%80%98above average%e2%80%99

Fourteen out of Vietnam’s 18 ministries that run or are otherwise involved with businesses have all been rated above average in a poll of companies done by the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The survey released Wednesday is based on feedback from 207 business groups representing 419,000 companies on the compilation of legal documents by ministries.

MEI 2011 marks the ministries on a scale of 1 to 100. The Ministry of Justice tops the list with 59.01 points, followed by the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs with 58.51, and the Ministry of Planning and Investment with 56.59.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment ranks bottom with 51.37 points.

The respondents gave high marks to all ministries for the framing and implementation of legal documents, but not for collecting opinions from businesses and organizations before drafting them or for publicizing laws.

VCCI called this an “unreasonable trend” in a statement on its Dien Dan Doanh Nghiep (Business Forum) website.

The ministries are mainly focused on more difficult activities and indifferent to “easier” ones that are however equally important, it added.

“Enterprises did not find the ministries making necessary efforts to execute their work as best as possible,” Vu Tien Loc, VCCI’s chairman, said.

At a ceremony held to release it, Deputy Minister of Justice Le Thanh Long hailed the report and said it should be taken as a reference by the ministries.

However, the report only reflected the businesses’ “feelings” and lacked evidence, he said: For instance, his ministry had not received a single opinion after posting some draft laws on its website.

Nguyen Thi Thu Trang, a member of the research team, admitted the report was subjective and not backed by statistics, which are not available either.

But Tuoi Tre quoted her as saying: “[Enterprises’] feelings should not be ignored because it has a certain significance.”

Ministries should review their system of collecting opinions before saying businesses do not offer feedback, she added.

Dec 30 2011

Different credit limits a rational move

different credit limits a rational move

Strong small banks should be allowed greater lending growth

A local commercial bank’s employee counts money next to piles of dong notes in
Hanoi on Monday

The application of different credit caps on different banks based on their operational capacity is expected to correct a situation where banks with customers cannot offer loans while others lack clients to fully use their credit limits.

At a banking conference in Hanoi last weekend, the State Bank of Vietnam announced that it will stop applying one credit growth target for all banks next year, allowing stronger lenders to offer more loans than others.

Credit institutions will be divided into four groups and weaker banks will have to face greater credit growth restrictions.

“This should have been done a long time ago,” said Le Tham Duong from the Ho Chi Minh City Banking University. “The move would help improve the quality of banks, facilitate macroeconomic stability and encourage banks to make greater efforts to increase their competitiveness.”

However, there would be problems in implementing the decision, especially in categorizing banks, he said.

The central bank has not made clear what criteria will be used to categorize banks. Around 20 banks in the country are facing liquidity problems or have been found violating credit regulations.

Duong said banks should be categorized based on their capital, liquidity, management capacity, and market shares. “This should be done as soon as possible,” he said.

Truong Hoang Luong, vice general director of Kien Long Bank, said the application of different credit caps on different banks is rational. However, the central bank should allow small banks with high capital adequacy ratio, and those with good credit quality, to enjoy enough credit growth to ensure their profit.

“It’s quite safe to allow small banks with high capital adequacy ratio to have high credit growth. The loans given by a small bank which has a credit growth of even 30 percent could be much smaller compared to that of a big one with a growth of only 1 percent,” he said.

The head of a commercial bank said the current application of a single credit growth target for all banks could lead to the situation that some banks have customers, but cannot continue to extend credit, while others, who have not reached their lending limit, do not have customers.

This makes it hard for firms to access loans, affecting economic development in general, he said.

Agreeing with the new policy, Tran Bac Ha, chairman of the Bank for Investment and Development of Vietnam, or BIDV, said it is necessary to define criteria to categorize lenders.

The central bank is aiming for an overall credit growth of between 15 percent and 17 percent next year. Central bank governor Nguyen Van Binh said loans expanded around 12.5 percent in 2011, compared to the average credit growth of 33.5 percent from 2001 to 2012. However, the economy still managed to grow 6 percent this year, which Binh said was a positive sign.

Economist Duong said: “The overall credit target for 2012 is quite logical. If we reduced the growth, inflation would be lowered faster. However, our goal is to lower inflation while ensuring economic growth of a reasonable level.”

Vietnam will aim for a 6 percent GDP growth in 2012.

However, credit growth is not as important as the destinations of credit flows, Duong said.

“We should give priority to the agricultural sector, exporters, and small- and medium-sized enterprises in providing access to loans.”

Lower interest rates

According to the central bank, a new ceiling may be imposed on lending interest rates next year to stabilize the market, together with a cap on deposit rates.

Governor Binh has criticized the banking system for widespread violations of the 14-percent limit on deposit interest rates, causing borrowing costs to surge, hurting businesses.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung also said the State Bank of Vietnam has to cut interest rates as inflation was easing.

Vietnam’s inflation slowed for a third month in November. Consumer prices rose 19.83 percent from a year earlier, after climbing 21.59 percent in October, according to the General Statistics Office.

Economist Tran Hoang Ngan said lowering interest rates would help firms reduce their production costs and boost stock market development. Thus, it should be conducted as soon as possible.

However, he said, the interest rate reduction may see people withdraw their money from banks, especially the small ones. So, there should be a policy to help small banks increase their liquidity before cutting the rates, he added.

A banker who wished to remain unnamed said many small banks have seen smaller deposits although they have offered the highest allowed interest of 14 percent.

If the rate is lowered further, they would see a further reduction in their deposits, affecting their liquidity, because people were still concerned about high inflation and dong devaluation in the coming time, he said.

As of now, many lenders are attracting deposits with interest rates of 14 percent and offering loans at 17-19 percent, with some banks even charging more than 20 percent.

Dec 30 2011

The colorful H’mong costume

the colorful h%e2%80%99mong costume

White H’mong girls

In the high mountains of northern Vietnam, the H’mong are all set to celebrate their New Year next week.

Vietnam’s eighth largest ethnic group is renowned for its colorful clothes and the New Year is an occasion for flaunting them.

For the H’mong, in fact, clothes do make the man – or woman, in this case. They are divided into several subgroups, but the four major ones are White, Red, Black, and Flower H’mong, a reference to the colors of their women’s clothes.

For ages the H’mong women have been making their families’ clothes by hand. In the past girls used to be taught weaving, embroidering, and sewing at seven or eight, skills that were considered a basic criterion to judge their character and find a good husband.

“You are beautiful but bad at weaving means you are still unattractive,” H’mong mothers often tell their daughters.

By the time she gets married (at 15-18) a girl should have made around 10 dresses to take with her to her husband’s family.

She will continue to weave and embroider for the rest of her life.

H’mong women can be seen dividing or knotting a roll of linen fiber even when walking to the market or sitting around with friends.

“We grow flax for our clothes,” Vang Seo Su of Quan Ba District, Ha Giang Province, says.

“If the Thai have cotton, we have linen. Others recognize us because we wear linen. And when we die our children will have to dress us in linen clothes so that our ancestors in heaven can recognize us.”

Su says making a skirt or a jacket involves a lot of steps.

“It takes around three months for the flax plants to become ready for harvest,” she says.

“Then we dry the plants and take the fibers from their stem. We must crush the stem and boil and tear it into thin strips. Now we have the white fibers for weaving.”

Dyeing is another time-consuming process that requires patience and experience. The H’mong use natural substances such as indigo, saffron, and betel to color their clothes.

The Flower and the Red H’mong are famous for their indigo batik technique. They dip a feather or cotton in wax and draw patterns on the white cloth, dye the cloth with indigo, and soak in hot water. The wax melts, leaving white patterns on the dark-blue background.

After the dyeing is finished the next step is embroidering and sewing to make a complete suit.

A traditional H’mong woman’s suit comprises of a jacket, a pleated skirt, a waistband, an apron, leggings, and hat. But different subgroups, or even the same group living in different places, design their clothes in different styles and colors.

The White H’mong in Lai Chau Province usually wear a white pleated skirt under a black apron and black jacket and a plain black headscarf decorated with tassels. But in Tuyen Quang, Bac Kan, and Cao Bang, they have switched to black trousers.

The Black H’mong live mainly in Sapa District in Lao Cai Province. They get their name because they are dressed in dark clothes that are dyed in indigo. A suit includes a pleated skirt, a jacket, a long waistcoat, leggings, and a pillbox hat.

Red H’mong (also called Red Dao) women dress in black as well but wrap their hair in a red scarf decorated with accessories.

Their traditional costume features a pleated indigo batik skirt worn under a black apron with a red waistband and a black jacket with large embroidered lapel panels at the front. They are mainly seen in Lai Chau.

The Flower H’mong are the most colorful of the lot. They wear a colorful embroidered calf-length skirt together with an embroidered jacket that can be black, blue, or green. Visitors can see Flower H’mong women when they go to Bac Ha Market held on Sundays in Lao Cai. They also live in Yen Bai and Son La provinces.

While the women’s costumes are a splash of colors and patterns, the men wear simpler clothes in black with little embroidery. Their suit comprises of a short, tight jacket and short, loose trousers that allow them free movement for their daily chores.

Their mother and sisters make the clothes for them first, then it is the girlfriend and wife.

The costume that sings

The H’mong attire not only catches the eye but also the ear. In the field, on the road, or at the market, a H’mong woman is easily noticed by the jingle from her clothes. It comes from all the accessories and jewelry she wears.

Besides all the colors and patterns, the H’mong also like to decorate their clothes with metal coins that are carefully attached to waistbands, leggings, hats with colorful strings. The coins are normally made of cheap metal, but are sometimes in silver and have French-era patterns. They are available at all local markets.

When Tet nears, H’mong girls make waistbands with many coins to decorate their dresses. A family’s economic status can be gauged from the number of coins in their dresses.

Moc Chau, Sa Pa, Sin Ho, and Dong Van are well-known for their magnificent landscapes alright, but are likely to lose half their charm without the colorful H’mong.

However, visitors should not be surprised to return here just after the New Year and see the colorful dresses and jingling noises disappear.

This is a tragic casualty of economic development – H’mong as well as other ethnic groups are increasingly opting to wear jeans and shirts instead of spending time at their looms.          

But enjoy the colors while you can. The New Year celebrations last from December 24 to 29 – that is, the 30th of the 11th lunar month to the 5th of the 12th month – this year.

Dec 30 2011

Hanoi to host free food festival

hanoi to host free food festival


The Hanoi Tourist Corporation will host a free food festival at the West Lake theme park from December 30, 2011 to January 2, 2012, Nguoi Lao Dong newspaper reported.

Am thuc Ha Thanh – Chao Xuan 2012 (Hanoi cuisine – Spring Greetings 2012), aimed at promoting Hanoi’s culinary culture and Vietnamese tradition, will feature various cuisines like vegetarian and ancient and modern Hanoi foods, folk games, handicrafts, and trade villages, according to the newspaper.

The Hanoi delicacies will include banh duc (plain rice flan), pho, bun rieu (vermicelli and sour crab soup), and banh tom Tay Ho (Crisp shrimp pastry from near West Lake).

The organizers said the festival was being planned for a second year in a row because of the success of the first one held last year. They hope to attract 15,000 people every day, Nguoi Lao Dong said.

Dec 29 2011

Phan Thiet golf course offers stay and play for $78

phan thiet golf course offers stay and play for 78

The Ocean Dunes Golf Club in Phan Thiet is offering a golf stay-and-play package as part of its ongoing 15th anniversary celebrations.

The package, valid until March 31 next year, starts at VND1.65 million (US$78.51) a person for 18 holes at the course designed by six-time majors winner Nick Faldo, caddie fees, a twin-share room, and breakfast.

Glenn Cassells, the club’s general manager, said the package gives golfers access to the course and accommodation for the best possible price.

“With the golf package, Ocean Dunes makes this experience available to anyone, through the Tet holiday and beyond, whether they arrive from Shanghai, Singapore, Hanoi, or Ho Chi Minh City,” he said.

The package was the most appropriate way to celebrate the role of the club as the pioneer of golf playing in Vietnam, he said.

Ocean Dunes opened in 1996 and showed the way forward to the 30 golf clubs operating in Vietnam today, and 70 more that are now planned or under construction, he said.

Every August it hosts the Faldo Series Asia, a prestigious junior golf competition in Asia.$78.aspx

Dec 29 2011

French pastries, buffet for Tet at Caravelle

french pastries buffet for tet at caravelle

Caravelle hotel in
Ho Chi Minh City
will start 2012 with a sweet note, serving French pastries and feasts during the run-up to


(Lunar New Year festival) later next month.

The Choux Eclairs promotion from January 14 to 21 will offer light French pastries. Seven varieties will be served, including chocolate cream with poached pear slices and icing and toffee cream with sliced fresh bananas and broken walnuts, starting at VND160,000 (US$7.61) per portion.

The pastries can be paired with Italy’s Lavazza coffee or premium Canadian tea Ronnefeldt for an extra VND240,000, or with champagne for VND310,000.

There will be two days of holiday buffets on January 22 and 23 to celebrate Vietnam’s biggest holiday, with Asian and Western dishes put alongside traditional Tet delicacies like the glutinous rice cakes bánh chưng and bánh tét.

Fresh fish and other seafood, grilled and barbecued meats, and warm oysters will be passed around while desserts will feature a chocolate fountain and Vietnamese treats.

The dinner starts at VND1,013,000 (US$48.20) per person.

Dec 29 2011

Have a Dim Sum New Year

have a dim sum new year

If you are one of the millions that have a yearning for Chinese food, you can make it a New Year to remember with the traditional Chinese dinners on offer at the New World Saigon Hotel in
Ho Chi Minh City

The New Year’s Eve Party at the Dynasty restaurant on December 31, on from 6 p.m. to midnight, is a good choice for Chinese food lovers. Diners can choose between two set menus featuring delicacies such as baked crab shell stuffed with assorted meats and pan fried beef ribs with black pepper sauce.

– From VND1,352,000 (US$64) a person, including a free flow of champagne, house wine, draft beer and soft drinks.

The hotel’s Parkview restaurant, meanwhile, will serve dinners with bone-in beef ribeye, herb crusted rack of lamb, and lobster, among others.

 – VND2,184,000 (US$104) a person, also with free flow of beverages.

A live band will play throughout the evening.

For the Lunar New Year, Vietnam’s biggest festival that falls in late January, the hotel offers a month-long treat at its Chinese restaurant Dynasty.

The nine-course family set menus feature delicacies such as suckling pig, abalone, braised oysters with Chinese mushrooms or ostrich fillets with macadamia nuts, available every day from 12 to 2:30 p.m. or from 6 to 10 p.m.

– From VND672,000 ($32) per person.

A selection of dim sum also awaits all guests at Dynasty from January 24 to 31, including oyster sea moss dumplings, crispy squid balls, chicken asparagus dumplings and more. The offer is available daily from 12 to 2:30 p.m. and 6 to 10 p.m. at VND88,000 ($4.19) per dish.

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