Avian flu

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If you’ve been following the stories about avian flu in Vietnam (and now Thailand), a story from last Wednesday sets an even more potentially disastrous scenario than most people initially thought:

There’ve been nearly 900,0000 chickens that farmers have sold to the market from the beginning of January, mostly from Long An and Tine Giang,” said Nguyen Van Thong, deputy director of the veterinary department under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, referring to the two hardest-hit provinces. The chickens were still alive when sold.

900,000. There’s a lot of potential there for a major health disaster, even moreso if the virus mutates, as Erik over at Vegan.com has mentioned.

This is also interesting because I’ve been to Long An. My mother-in-law’s boyfriend’s family lives there, and when I traveled to Vietnam with my wife and her mother back in 1998, we stopped in Long An a number of times. Coincidentally, Long An is where I had water with ice—the only time during my entire trip since the ice is usually chopped on the sidewalk—and I got extremely sick for three days because of it.

My mother-in-law is currently in Vietnam visiting family. I’m curious what the mood is like in Vietnam right now, but we haven’t gotten any e-mail from her since the avian flu was first discovered. We wrote to her to tell her, “Don’t eat the chicken.”

A new development today: KFC in Vietnam has switched to serving fish.

Six people have died thusfar from the flu.

Vegetarian Tet

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My wife and I had a party this past weekend to celebrate Tet (Vietnamese New Year), which is this Thursday. We served up vegetarian fare that included the pho I always talk about here, egg rolls and spring rolls, tofu triangles (fried and baked), a peanut satay made by our friend Kristy, and our “special” fortune cookies (special because we were having a heck of a time folding them properly, so we ended up making a hole in the middle and sticking the fortunes in, as seen here). Clean-up at the end of the night was really easy, as there was almost no food left. I take that to mean people enjoyed what we cooked. One person even made the kind comment that mine was the “best pho [they’d] ever tasted,” though the aforementioned Kristy said that my wife’s egg rolls “kicked [my] pho’s ass.” If I have to give up cooking glory to anyone, I prefer it’s my wife. :)

The baked tofu triangles came from an interesting source. When I was stocking up at a health food store near my work last week, the woman at the counter asked what I was going to make with the tofu I was buying. She told me that at a deli she used to work out, they had these baked sesame tofu triangles that sold out as quickly as they could make them. She gave me the gist of the recipe, I went home and tried it out just guessing on the amounts. It came out wonderfully on the first try, so I’m going to try and post the recipe here this week.

Apparently, in Chinese New Year celebrations, some people consider it bad luck to shed blood at the beginning of a new year, so they eat strictly vegetarian. Some us might say it’s bad luck to shed blood all year long, though, eh?

Weighing vegetarian options in a restaurant review

This week’s “Ask Tom” (that’s Tom Sietsema, restaurant critic) feature in the Washington Post has an interesting question with regards to how he rates restaurants and how a particular restaurant’s rating is affected by their willingness and ability to deal with vegetarian requests.

Washington, D.C.: Hey Tom: Do you ever include a vegetarian companion, or request a veggy option, while reviewing a restaurant? It seems to me that the way a chef deals with a vegetarian customer can be a good, shorthand way to distinguish good kitchens from truly great ones. Many very expensive places can muster only some variation of pasta primavera or a mix of their side dishes for the evening. Truly great places (I’m remembering specific meals at The Inn, Elysium, La Grenouille in NYC) see it as a challenge and often devise something so wonderful that other diners leave wishing they had ordered a veggy option. Should a kitchen get the coveted 4th star if they lack the flexibility and imagination to cook something amazing without meat or fish?

Tom Sietsema: I eat from the full range of a restaurant’s menu, so if there are vegetarian options available, chances are, I’ll try them. All the restaurants that I consider to be worthy of four stars can do amazing things without meat or fish.

“All the restaurants that I consider to be worthy of four stars can do amazing things without meat or fish.” I like that.

Where oh where is my tofu?

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I’ve become increasingly annoyed with my local Giant supermarket. While I’m pleased they have a decent selection of frozen veggie foods and I even like how they Fresh-Food-ized their health food section (it’s the only area of the store with a wood floor), I’d noticed in recent months that their tofu selection was dwindling. Now, they’ve never offered anything like the baked tofu I can get at the local health food store, but I always counted on being able to find either silken or regular varieties of soft, firm, and extra firm tofu at Giant. A few weeks ago, the only tofu they had was regular firm. Earlier this week I decided to pick up a package of the firm tofu and simply couldn’t find it. I asked three different employees and was told four different places to check for it. It wasn’t anywhere to be found.

Really, considering how well our Giant does with health food and vegetarian options, I’d expect it to be a little easier to find the tofu.

Oh, and while I’m at it, I don’t like that there are a few chicken-based foods in the “vegetarian specialties” section of the frozen food aisle. Sure, they’re part of the Ethnic Gourmet line which has a number of vegetarian options, but the chicken dishes certainly aren’t.