Bring nature to you 

A customer shopping at Harnn & Thann in Saigon Center at 65 Le Loi Boulevard in Ho Chi Minh City

In the busy cities nowadays, nature seems like a luxury that few can find time for. When was the last time you ran barefoot on the grass and watched a kite flying over a green field? When did you last amble through a forest on a sunny day?

Fortunately, if you cannot go to nature, you can bring nature to your house and life with natural products.

Harnn & Thann in Saigon Center at 65 Le Loi Boulevard in Ho Chi Minh City has what many stressed out people are looking for: a spa that takes them to a spring garden in the hill town of Da Lat.

Herbal remedies for a cold or fever are common in Oriental medicine. Only 15 years ago, Vietnamese people would often combine herbs and a hot sauna to alleviate a bad cold.

Harnn & Thann products blend Asian culture, traditions and knowledge of natural therapy with the science of skin care.

This shop, full of pleasant fragrances, has many diversified facial and body products to offer. Harnn & Thann is a Thai brand name famous for its extracts of rice bran, lemongrass oil, mint, exotic kaffir lane, vanilla and other natural ingredients.

“I choose vitamin E-rich extracts of rice bran oil products. After a hard day, a product with lemongrass oil lifts my spirits. Harnn & Thann offers customers a lifestyle of total wellness, with products that are 100 percent paraben-free and have no artificial colors or fragrances,” said Tran Huong, a customer at Harnn & Thann.

“Besides exotic Oriental essence, Harnn & Thann also has soothing Mediterranea floral, refreshing sea foam and vibrant aromatic wood. On the weekend, a spa at home with natural exotic products gives me renewed energy,” said Nguyen Xuan Lan, another customer at the shop.

The product line includes skin, body and hair care products like shampoo, clay masks, moisturizers and exfoliating scrubs.

Harnn is a line of home-spa products that includes exfoliating soaps and salt scrubs, massage oils, hand creams, body and massage creams, foot scrubs and bath salts.

The scents include cinnamon, lemongrass and basil. Rice bran oil is a common ingredient in the soaps and has a grown-up, subtle scent.

Harnn & Thann

Saigon Center

65 Le Loi Boulevard, District 1

Tel: (08) 3 914 2649

Diamond Plaza

34 Le Duan Boulevard, District 1

Tel: (08) 2 210 3365

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Gas prices rise following refinery shutdown 

A delivery man carries an LPG cylinder on a motorbike in Ho Chi Minh City

Retail prices for liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) in Vietnam have increased by about 4 percent after the country temporarily halted operation at the Dung Quat during an equipment check.

Ho Chi Minh City-based Saigon Petro said a 12-kilogram cylinder of LPG now costs VND343,000. The company said the shutdown at the country’s only oil refinery has led to a supply shortfall.

Do Trung Thanh, sales manager at Saigon Petro, said local distributors have had to import more fuel and, as a result, retail prices have gone up.

State-owned Vietnam Oil & Gas Group, also known as PetroVietnam, halted production at the Dung Quat refinery for an inspection early last week. The shutdown is expected to last up to three weeks.

LPG prices were raised 3 percent earlier this month, to VND330,000 per 12-kilogram cylinder, due to rising world prices.

Saigon Petro said local consumers should expect another hike, in April.

Fat city 

Foie gras at Olivier Restaurant in Sofitel Saigon Plaza Hotel

There are few guilty pleasures in this world as sublime as the fatty French wonder: foie gras.

While “pate” can be found on the shelves of every streetside sandwich stall in Ho Chi Minh City, its finest iteration is just now taking some of the town’s hi-end eateries by storm.

For those who don’t know, foie gras (literally, fatty liver) is derived from the liver of an oversized goose or duck.

According to French law, the bird must be forcibly stuffed full of corn and other cereals until it is morbidly obese; Canadian and American producers have made the same dish, using natural feeding techniques, but the resulting liver is considered less tasty.

Indeed, foie gras is graded (A,B,C). It can be blended, whipped up in to a mousse or reconstituted into a terrene. In their purest form, the fatty livers are sliced and served as whole rounds.

In France, it’s often mashed into bread or served with fruit and cheese as a wonderful means of offsetting the crisp flavors of a nice glass of Sauterne.

It takes a true master to manage to take the dish to a new level. On occasion, it is sautéed delicately to crisp the exterior.

Dessert chefs have been known to drizzle cuts of the famed pate with vinegar, balsamic vinegar and other sweet and tart sauces.

Here in HCMC, the savory punch of foie gras is being cut by local tropical fruits.

Certain chefs in town have added a modern twist – served up with cuts of mango, dragon fruit and pineapple.

To sample some of Saigon’s takes on this item, check out the following:

Legend Hotel Saigon

2A-4A Ton Duc Thang Street, District 1

Tel: (08) 3 823 3333

Sofitel Saigon Plaza Hotel                 

17 Le Duan Boulevard, District 1

Tel: (08) 3 824 1555

Hotel Equatorial Ho Chi Minh City

242 Tran Binh Trong Street, District 5

Tel: (08) 3 839 7777

Au Manoir De Khai Restaurant

251 Dien Bien Phu Street,

District 3. Tel: (08) 3 930 3394

The battle for Cu Chi barbeque 

 

Saigon’s famed picnic destination has been through a lot, but it’s still the best place for barbecued beef


Grilled Cu Chi beef is among the delicacies of Ho Chi Minh City

Cu Chi was once known as the ideal picnic spot for Ho Chi Minh City office workers. Rich fruit orchards and fecund farms offered a wonderful gastronomical day trip for stressed out city folk.

During the war, the people of Cu Chi were harried by one of the most vicious campaigns of the entire war.

The Americans never could beat the tunnel-dwelling freedom fighters. But they did ruin Cu Chi as a dining destination, for a time.

Today, it’s back.

Families looking to survive after the victory invested in cattle and it has paid off, big time.

Now Cu Chi is the city’s prime source for cheap and tasty veal and beef.

Barbeque joints, catering to HCMC tourists now dot the district. Places like Bo To (young beef) Xuan Dao Restaurant serve the following local delicacies:

Boiled beef

Though it may sound bland, boiled beef makes for an ideal appetizer at the Xuan Dao. This isn’t your English grandmother’s boiled meat. This one is cooked in pure flavor.

Consider a trip to the following restaurants:

Bo To Xuan Dao
Nguyen Giao Street, Highway 22, Cu Chi Town, Cu Chi District

Bo To Cu Chi
38B Dinh Tien Hoang Street, District 1

Bay Quyt
9B Le Quy Don Street, Phu Nhuan District

Makers of the dish start by creating a base broth flavored with boiled bones, black cardamom, ginger and onion.

The bubbling liquid is served with tender beef slices and diners are invited to boil them to perfection.

The meat is then rolled with fresh herbs and rice paper and dipped into a special sauce.

Fried beef skin with fresh turmeric

 In Vietnam, beef skin fried with fresh turmeric is often prescribed for those suffering from a weak stomach. Whether or not this prescription works for you, the appetizer makes for a delicious accompaniment to a cold beer.

Thinly sliced beef is fried up with battered bits of turmeric, onion, celery, roasted peanut and chili.

The crisp meat slices are wrapped up in vermicelli, cucumber, bean sprouts and herbs and dunked into a flavored fish sauce. Voila!

Grilled beef

One of the joys of dining at a place like Bo To Xuan Dao is the pleasure of grilling up your own meat.

A whole cut of raw beef is placed on the table accompanied by a knife and cutting board. After cutting the meat to their liking, customers are invited to marinate the strips in a bowl of fish sauce, chili, garlic and lemon juice.

Traditionally, the meat is cut thin and thrown on the fire for a couple of minutes. To each his own.

Porridge with beef shin

Perhaps the most renowned Cu Chi District is porridge with beef shin.

The sinewy meat is partially stir-fried in flavorful spices and then simmered in coconut juice. Finally, the leg is boiled in bone broth.

Once tender and tasty, the beef is served with a rice porridge flavored with green bean, white bean, taro, cassava, green papaya and turmeric.

All of the items combine to create wonderful textures and a host of competing flavors.

The delicacy is so popular that it has spread throughout HCMC. Customers who can’t make it to Cu Chi can enjoy the delicacy in downtown Saigon.

Overseas remittances surpass expectations 

A customer fills out a money transfer form at a Western Union outlet in Ho Chi Minh City.

Overseas remittances to Vietnam reached a record high of more than US$8 billion last year, an unexpected increase of 25.6 percent over 2009.

In December alone, the inflow was $770 million, according to the central bank’s foreign currency management department.

The funds, a major source of foreign currency in Vietnam, come from overseas Vietnamese who want to support their families or those looking to invest in their homeland.

The bulk of remittances flowed into Ho Chi Minh City, which received $3.8 million last year, up 20 percent from the previous year.

Analysts said the record high amount of money sent to Vietnam, equal to 7.6 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, was a surprise as the forecast was around $6 billion.

Remittances to Vietnam more than tripled from 2001 to 2008, when it reached $7.2 billion. But due to the global economic crisis, the flows fell 13 percent in 2009 to $6.3 billion.

Tran Van Trung, director of the Dong A Money Transfer Company, said overseas remittances grew last year because the economy started recovering, allowing many people, especially those in the US, to send money home. Besides, the increasing quality of money transfer services, a wider range of products and favorable polices have also contributed to the strong flow, he said.

Trung said recipients are not required to pay income taxes and they can choose to receive the money in either local currency or the US dollar.

According to a World Bank report in November, Vietnam ranked third among the top 10 remittance recipients in East Asia and Pacific, after China and the Philippines. Worldwide, the top recipient countries in 2010 were India, China, Mexico, the Philippines, and France.

Cao Sy Kiem, a member of the National Monetary and Financial Policy Advisory Council, said 2010 was a successful year for Vietnam in receiving remittances, but the problem was how to make the funds more valuable to the economy.

“The remittance flows are strong but we haven’t put them to effective use,” he said. “Remittances are transferred via banks, but they are not sold to or deposited into banks for later use by the economy.”

“Overseas remittances are mostly retained by the public,” Kiem said, citing a lack of confidence in the banking system and the local currency as a reason.

Economist Dinh The Hien said the gap between black market and official rates for the dollar is still too large to draw dollar remittances into banks.

“To solve the problem, this gap must be narrowed,” he said.

Kiem said that with economic prospects getting brighter this year, the country can expect even more remittance inflows.

It’s necessary to create the right monetary policies and convince people to deposit money in banks rather than keeping it at home, he said.

Bite into a broomstick 

 

With simple ingredients, tre embraces the unforgettable tastes of central Vietnam


Tré Binh Dinh at Moon River Restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City’s Binh Thanh District

“Most people are put off when they see tre,” Le Thi Thanh says.

“Then they cut and taste it, and are astounded by the strong flavors.”

Thanh is the owner of Moon River Restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City, which specializes in delicacies from central Vietnam, including tre.

Tre is made using pig ear meat, pig head meat, pork, sesame, roasted rice powder, hot chilies, garlic, young guava leaves and banana leaves.

First, the meat is scalded in boiling water, and then quickly immersed in cool water. Once the meat is crispy, it is seasoned with spices. The seasoned meat is then skillfully wrapped in guava and banana leaves.

Finally, the package is wrapped in a thick layer of straw, and tied at the two ends with bamboo strings. The straw helps tre keep longer, and enhances the flavors and fragrance.

WHERE TO GO

Customers can discover the central spicy flavor of tre at the following restaurants in HCMC:

* Moon River
233A Binh Quoi Street, Ward 28, Binh Thanh District

* Thanh Nga
45C Ky Dong Street, District 3

* Nam Giao
662/19 Su Van Hanh Street, District 10

* Chao Vit Sai Gon
40 Tran Cao Van Street, District 1

* Nau
156 Nguyen Van Troi Street, Ward 8, Phu Nhuan District

It also makes it look like a mini-broomstick, and definitely inedible.

After it has been wrapped tightly, tre is left to mature in a cool, airy place for three days and two nights.

After it matures, tre has the subtle aromas of fermented meat, galangal and garlic. It is served with rice paper, fresh vegetables, sliced green banana and cucumber.

The dish is dipped into fish sauce mixed with lime, chili, garlic and sugar, or into a sweet and spicy chili sauce.

Despite the rustic look of the tre, its unique flavors have transcended national boundaries. Recently, Thanh opened a new restaurant in Singapore, and tre has already become one of its best-selling dishes.

The sesame adds grease and crunch while the meat is soft and crispy.

Tre comes from central Vietnam, where the cuisine is often spicy. The influence is evident in the sweet and sour tang, and complex aroma of the dish. It is famous in central destinations such as the towns of Da Nang, Hue and Nha Trang and the provinces of Binh Dinh, Quang Ngai and Quang Nam.

For those who miss the spice of tre made in central Vietnam, head to the several restaurants in HCMC serving the popular dish.

Prices range from VND100,000- 120,000 for a portion in restaurants. It also makes great gifts for friends and family, costing around VND500,000 a kilo.

ASEAN Golden Voice Contest 2011 returns to Vietnam 

 

Seventeen singers from ASEAN member countries are participating in the ASEAN Golden Voice Contest 2011 in Ho Chi Minh City from January 5 to 8.

The singing contest opened with traditional and folk songs sung in the contestants’ native languages on January 5 at the HCMC Television Theater.

The second show on January 7 will see competitors battle it out with English-language pop songs. The award ceremony will be held at the final gala on January 8. All the shows will be broadcast live on HTV9.

According to organizer, Ho Chi Minh City Television and Cat Tien Sa Company, among the more famous singers participating in the event this year are Brunei’s FIQ and Moon, winners of Brunei Talent Competition, Iqwal Hafiz and Katherine Chan, winners of Popstar 2008 in Malaysia, and Thai guitarists-singers Plengpraphun Kingthong and Wongloung Sirilux.

Famous Indonesian singers Netta Kusumah Dewi and Hershon, and Filipino Uela Basco are also going to vie for the crown at the contest.

Kasim Hoang Vu, Thu Minh, Do Tung Lam and H’Zina Bya, winners of the TV Singer Star Contest in 2008 and 2010 will represent the host country.

Judges include Keitaro Kamo, director of Japanese music company Toshiba Emi, Indira Sotyawati, dance director at the Jakarta Music School, and Vietnamese musicians Tran Long An, Nguyen Ngoc Thien and Duong Thu.

This is the second festival of its kind to be held in Vietnam. The event was launched in 2008.