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Humble plants turned to pleasant edible art



Hue-based celebrated cook Mai Thi Tra has eaten a strict vegetarian diet since the historic flooding which left hundreds dead in the city in 1999.

Prior to the flooding, she ate veggie food for only two to 10 days a month as part of her Buddhism. However, after the flooding, she went to help the monks at a nearby pagoda prepare vegetarian food for needy people, which inspired her to switch to a fully vegetarian diet and devote herself to mastering cooking local veggie delicacies.

Before that, she was known for her skill in making traditional Hue cuisine. Born to a noble family where her aunt, Mai Thi Vang, was a wife of King Duy Tan and her father the district’s top mandarin, Tra was exposed to cooking from a young age.

Humble plants turned to pleasant edible art
DEDICATION: Tra cooks at a national culinary event. Photo courtesy of Mai Thi Tra

“I learned cooking from my mum and other female relatives,” said the master cook, adding that the family often gathered on special occasions such as Tet (Lunar New Year) and cooked up a storm.

She now knows the secrets of making plenty of plant-based dishes thanks to helping cook in pagodas, studying for many decades and of course what she learned from her family.

She is also the author of the bilingual Vietnamese-French book Món chay phong cách Huế — Vegetariens a la Mode de Hue (Vegetarian dishes in Hue style). 

Long-standing tradition

According to Tra, vegetarian cuisine is an important part of Hue gastronomy. The former imperial capital has approximately 200 plant-based dishes and was among the first places in Vietnam where vegetarianism started.

Hue vegetarianism consists of two styles: royal and monastic.

Humble plants turned to pleasant edible art
PASSING ON PASSION: Tra instructs children how to make vegetarian treats at a summer camp. Photo courtesy of Mai Thi Tra

The royal style originated from a tradition of the king in the past, which started in 1807. Every three years, the king held an offering ritual called Nam Giao Esplanade for which he went vegan and slept at the fasting palace before the ritual began.

The cooks worked hard to create healthy vegetarian dishes for the king. The royal plant-based meals were sophisticated and carefully prepared from vegetables, fruits, legumes and mushrooms imported from China, all cooked in various ways from stewed to grilled.

On the other hand, the monastic style which started in Buddhist pagodas was much more rustic. The monks cooked their meals from simple local ingredients such as squash, legumes, peanuts, sesame and soybean sauce. They didn’t apply fancy cooking techniques nor did they use seasoning due to its scarcity. This way of cooking was popular since it was affordable and easy to follow. Buddhist followers are often on veggie diet on the first and 15th days of a lunar month, which is still practised nowadays. Some became fully vegan or vegetarian like Tra.

In the 20th century, some of the royal members became nuns and introduced the sophistication of the court vegetarian cuisine to a broader community.

The two styles have since blended into each other, creating a diversity of Hue vegetarian dishes.

Celebrating natural flavours

“Hue vegetarian cuisine is all about celebrating the freshness and goodness of plants,” Tra said.

Prioritising the natural flavour of plants in cooking, she uses fresh and in-season ingredients. The ingredients are simple but nutrient-rich, ranging from beans and tofu to greens and nuts. While tofu and legumes provide protein, grains – carbs and nuts – fat, greens and fruits are a great source of essential vitamins and minerals.

Humble plants turned to pleasant edible art
BEAUTY OF NATURE: Vegetarian version of banh la vai made from mung beans, tapioca flour and coconut meat. Photo courtesy of Mai Thi Tra

The master cook said the healthiest way to cook plant-based dishes involves eating them raw to preserve the goodness and nutrients of the ingredients.

However, whatever way the dishes are cooked, seasoning is crucial.

According to Tra, people often forget how sweet vegetables are and use too many artificial additives. She replaces those sweeteners with natural spices and adds some small cubes of rock sugar to downplay the saltiness and bring a balanced taste to her dishes.

She mentioned that the chefs shouldn’t peel the ingredients too thickly, especially root vegetables, as most of their nutrients lay underneath the skin.

Vegetable broth is the base of Tra’s cooking and used in various dishes like porridge and soup. She stews different kinds of plants like carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes and jicama to create flavour layers for the broth.

One of her famous recipes is a mixed soup made from fresh mushrooms, green beans, lotus seeds, potatoes, carrot, tofu skin and vegetable broth. The vegetables are smashed carefully, while lotus seeds are separately boiled and equally divided in different bowls. After seasoning, the final product is an edible art with a pleasant fragrance of beans, a nutty taste of lotus seeds and a sweet flavour of mushrooms.

That was the dish master chef Tra made at the welcome party for the diplomatic corps during the Hue Cultural Week in Hanoi in 2000. Its strong impression on diners brought her an opportunity to travel to Belgium to introduce Vietnamese vegetarian cuisine to the world. 

Cooking from the heart

Cooking vegetarian dishes requires lots of effort and meticulousness from chefs. Therefore, dedication is a prerequisite as this work is “an act of love” in Tra’s words.

Following that philosophy, Tra has diligently practised and created various vegetarian recipes, ranging from soups and noodle dishes to cakes. With experience and creativity, she has delicately changed savoury dishes to plant-based ones by substituting meat ingredients with vegetarian ones, making flavoursome and elegantly plated food.

Humble plants turned to pleasant edible art
EDIBLE ART: Tra’s banh trai vai (lychee cake) looks like the real fruit. Photo courtesy of Mai Thi Tra

At the age of 85, master chef Tra still enthusiastically presents and teaches how to cook veggie meals to kitchen lovers at different events and competitions.

She has been working on writing books about traditional vegetarian dishes and cakes of Hue to spread the local culinary art and foster the love for cooking to more people.

Source: Vietnam News



Stone grinder collection tells part of Vietnamese culture



Hundreds of old stone mortars, millstones and grinders, of different sizes and shapes, are on display at a private museum in the mountainous district of Yen The in the northern province of Bac Giang.

Stone grinder collection tells part of Vietnamese culture
Hundreds of old stone mortars, millstones and grinders, and other farming tools seen at the private museum by Nguyen Dac Nong, a retired journalist. — VNA/VNS Photos Danh Lam

The collection has been accumulated over the past three decades by Nguyen Dac Nong, a retired journalist, who said that the objects were very common in the daily lives of Vietnamese people in the past.

“Our country’s history of development engaged in wet rice cultivation. People in the past used stone mortars and millstones to process their food from rice grain. Depended on their specific purposes, they used these stone objects to pound the rice grain to remove the husk, and grind rice into dried or wet flour. So, it can be said these items are part of our traditional culture – the Red River civilisation,” Nong said.

However, the weighty items were replaced gradually by other products made of lighter materials, or even electric appliances.

“Many people didn’t hesitate to throw away the items which became useless in their house. But in my mind, they are valuable items in terms of culture and history. I’m hurt when I see people treat the items as waste and just want to get rid of them,” said the 76-year-old man, who is former deputy director of Bac Giang Radio and Television.

Despite rain or shine, whenever he hears that there are people selling stone grinders in the region, the man has not hesitated to drive his old motorbike to purchase the items.

He was able to devote all his time to his hobby since he retired in 2007.

“I was very busy working at the provincial Radio and Television so I didn’t have enough time to hunt down the items. My collection grew since my retirement, because I can spend all my time seeking them out,” he said.

His collection features a large number of the stone mortars and millstones from different northern provinces such as Bac Giang, Hai Duong, Ha Nam and Nam Dinh. The ones made in the midland province of Thai Nguyen or mountainous province of Lang Son can also be found in his museum, which was set up in a northern-styled three-component house next to his own home.

Born and raised in a farming family in the district, Nong was taught traditional farming work.

“I followed my parents to work on our rice field when I was only five years old. And I became a buffalo boy when I was six years old. That’s why I have a special interest in farming tools and anything related to the simple life of ordinary peasants,” he said.

Stone grinder collection tells part of Vietnamese culture
Nguyen Dac Nong (4th left) seen together with a group of visitors at his private museum in Yen The District in Bac Giang Province.

Alongside the stone mortars and millstones, his museum is also home to hundreds of farming tools of farmers in the Red River Delta. Especially, his collection includes several farming tools of ethnic groups Thai, Tay, Nung and Cao Lan that he has collected during his “hunting trips” to northern mountainous provinces.

In addition, several items of war memorabilia can be found in the museum, including soldiers’ personal belongings, and an enamel cup that President Ho Chi Minh gave to each of the soldiers and officers in the Dien Bien Phu battlefield on the Lunar New Year in 1954 to praise their determination in the fight against the French.

Also on display is a bicycle used by commissariats to transport rice to the Dien Bien Phu battlefield.

Pieces of tree trunks embedded in the Bach Dang River to deter the invaders as the tide in the estuary receded during the historical battle between southern Han troops from China and ingenious Vietnamese troops led by legendary General Ngo Quyen in 938 can also be found in Nong’s museum.

Stone grinder collection tells part of Vietnamese culture
Although Nong has collected the items for decades, but his hobby hasn’t been supported by many other people, including his family members.

Although Nong has collected the items for decades, his hobby hasn’t been supported by many other people, including his family members.

“People think that I am a weirdo, while my family members said that I waste my money on useless items. But I don’t care what they think about me. I just care about how to preserve cultural and historical values. To collect and keep them in my small museum, it’s my way of preservation,” he said.

Before the closure at the end of April due to the COVID-19 pandemic, his museum has been visited by groups of school students in the province. He hopes that the gallery, which re-opened last week, is a worthy place to visit not only for school students, but also all kinds of visitors who want to learn a bit about the Vietnamese culture and history.

Source: Vietnam News


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Việt Nam’s futsal world cup ends with a 3-2 loss to Russia




Việt Nam player Nguyễn Đắc Huy (centre) celebrates his goal against Russia. Photo

HÀ NỘI – Việt Nam are out of the Futsal World Cup after they were beaten by old foes Russia 3-2 in the last eight of the knock out stages in Vilnious, Lithuania.

They matched their historic performance from Colombia five years ago when once again they fell at the hands of the same opponent at exactly the same stage.

But this time it was by the narrowest of margins compared to the 7-0 drubbing dished out by Russia five years ago.

Việt Nam can take pride in their futsal heroics on the world stage.

They are the only team from Asia to have made the last eight not once, but twice in consecutive tournaments.

Russia will have clearly done the homework and studied Việt Nam’s performances against stronger opposition, knowing full well the Golden Warriors would not fold easily.

Victory against Panama in the group stages, and a well-earned draw with the Czech Republic were enough to see Việt Nam go through against teams considered stronger opponents.

The match began with 2016 silver medalists Russia on the attack.  Yanar Asadov, Artem Antoshkin, Sergei Abramov and Danil Davydov continuously all tested Vietnamese keeper Hồ Văn Ý.

But Ý proved why he was voted world top 10 keeper of 2018 denying all of their early attempts.

Eventually though the pressure paid off and Robinho broke the deadlock in the 11th minute with a close-range tap in to Ý’s left corner. Ý tried to narrow Robinho’s angle but he could not block the rapid low finish of the Brazilian-born player.

Việt Nam, playing with a strong defence, also had their chances on the counterattack through Nguyễn Văn Hiếu, one of five best young players of the tournament, and Nguyễn Đắc Huy, who could not practise the day before because of his foot injury.

Russia made it 2-0 in the 17th minute when Ivan Chishkala netted after taking the ball from a sideline kick.

Just 20 seconds after Russia’s second goal, Huy narrowed the lead to 2-1. The 30-year-old forward received a perfect pass from Nhan Gia Hưng, the youngest player on the team, from the right wing and made no mistake to score with a header from close range.

Artem Niiazov and Abramov continued to threaten Việt Nam’s net in the beginning of the second half. They overcame Việt Nam’s players but were denied by both posts.

Their tireless attempts paid off on 29 minutes when Chishkala attacked on the left wing and his shot past both Minh Tri and keeper Y to find the net. It was his second goal of the game and fifth of the tournament

Pham Đức Hòa of Việt Nam scores his team’s second goal in the 3-2 defeat to Russia. Photo

Việt Nam, whose head coach Phạm Minh Giang could not take charge because of his positive result for COVID-19 before kick off, found less chances as the half moved to power-play style in the last seven minutes of the match. And it paid off in the 38th minute when Phạm Đức Hòa took the ball in the box and unleashed an unstoppable shot to narrow the gap once more.

In the closing stages, the team in red piled on the pressure but couldn’t find the net and the match finished 3-2 to Russia.

“We played this match for our teammate Vũ Đức Tùng (who suffered heavy injury from the previous match) and our great supporters,” said striker Huy after the match.

“We did everything we could and I believe that we have made big steps on the world stage.”

Meanwhile skipper Trần Văn Vũ who returned to game after being sidelined last match said despite the loss, it was a great performance by Việt Nam.

He also agreed that Việt Nam played better than in 2016 because they had far more experience.

Former national captain Nguyễn Bảo Quân said he was proud with what his successors did in Lithuania.

“They have good tactics, almost no individual mistakes, scored more goals and they were unlucky not to draw level with Russia near the end,” said Quân.

“Russia played with caution against Việt Nam as they saw the way the Southeast Asian team played against Panama and the Czech Republic.”

The COVID-19 pandemic delayed this year event, and Việt Nam will have a chance to bounce back in 2024.

No venue has been chosen yet to host the next World Cup, but India, Morocco, Mexico, the US, Guatemala and Russia have all expressed interest.

One thing’s for sure, after midfielder Hiếu was selected as one of the best five young players at this World Cup, Việt Nam know they have a good chance to go further if Hiếu develops with the rest of the squad over the next three years.


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Việt Nam in Group B of AFF Cup 2020




Việt Nam celebrate winning the AFF Cup 2018. Việt Nam have been drawn in Group B for the rescheduled AFF Cup 2020. Photo


HÀ NỘI — Việt Nam have discovered who they will face as they begin their defence of the AFF Cup.

They have been drawn in Group B and will play Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia and Laos after the draw was made by the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) in Singapore yesterday.

Group A consists of Thailand, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore and Brunei or Timor Leste.

The play-off match for the final place between Timor Leste and Brunei will take place on December 1. The draw saw Timor Leste confirmed as the away team in the one-off game.

Last year, the AFF decided to postpone the AFF Cup 2020 due to the spread of COVID-19 but now it is rescheduled to be held from December 5, 2021 to January 1, 2022.

Currently, the AFF is still actively working with member federations and co-operative units to decide on a neutral venue for the tournament.

Khiev Sameth, AFF’s chairman said at the draw it is a special event for all. This is the time when people overcome the coronavirus pandemic and bring to the audience impressive performances of the players, he said. 

The event will offer good matches, but it also must ensure the health of the players and participants in the event. 

In the group stage, the first and second-placed teams in each group will advance to two-legged semi-finals.

The two winners of the semi-finals will compete in the first leg’s on December 29, 2021 and the second leg’s on January 1, 2022.

In the 2018 tournament, Thailand were the defending champions, but lost to Malaysia in the semi-finals.

Việt Nam won the tournament after a 3–2 victory over two legs in the final against Malaysia to secure their second title. 

Nguyễn Quang Hải was voted player of the tournament, his three goals helped lift the trophy.

In the first leg of the final, Việt Nam drew 2-2 with Malaysia at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium, Kuala Lumpur.

In the return leg at the Mỹ Đình National Stadium a six minute strike from Nguyễn Anh Đức was enough to secure the victory. 


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