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Is that a bug in my soup?

Update: September, 18/2006 - 00:00

Kaleidoscope

(17-09-2006)

with Tran Dinh Thanh Lam

Is that a bug in my soup?

People in HCM City are getting rich off the trading of insects, which are prized as rare delicacies at area eateries.

At the Insect Restaurant owned by Tung De in Cu Chi District, the key ingredients in its dishes are grown outside in a large garden in full view of the guests. There, thousands of crickets are bred in hundreds of containers, and scorpions live and reproduce in a large pool, feeding off rotting straw and coconut shells.

"Insects are very productive and need little care," he said. "Crickets just need some mash and carrots. If 30 females mate with 15 males, they can produce more than 10,000 eggs per day. One kilo of 700 crickets sells for VND300,000 (US$18.8)."

At Hoang Khang Company, also in Cu Chi, earthworms are the specialty. The company raises the popular trun que or redworms, which thrive on cattle dung and straw. At VND150,000 a kilo, they are used as feed for poultry, tortoise and fish.

The trun ho, a delicate species that can be processed into food, cosmetics and medicine, is also raised. Plans are underway for marketing and exporting the two products overseas, the owners say.

Eating mice at the water's edge

Befitting an area beset by floods, celebrations in the Mekong Delta often take place on water, not on the stage. This month the rivers are rising in An Giang Province, signaling the start of a festival named after a lake that emerged, as legend has it, after a famous general thrust his sword into arid land.

During the Bung Binh Thien festival, performers and spectators alike sit in thuyen ba la (small sampans) on the lake that expands to 800 hectares during flood season, playing don ca tai tu (southern chamber music) and singing lullabies and cai luong tunes.

Foreigners are usually found on the sidelines, watching sampan races and frog hunting contests or savouring regional delicacies, like water lilies prepared with fish or field mouse barbecued with chili and salt.

Area residents say the once exceptionally dry site was chosen centuries ago by the general Vo Van Vuong as a strategic bastion on his way to conquer the South. After Voung speared the soil, a geyser sprung up and spread into the size of a lake, which he named Bung Binh Thien.

Local authorities have big plans for the increasingly popular area. "We want to make it into an eco-tourism destination," Phan Thi Thu Thuy Truyen, director of the An Giang Trade, Investment and Tourism Promotion Center, said.

Time's up, do you love me yet?

Mobile phone and internet chatting have offered Vietnamese youth rich romantic possibilities, with the online dating website www.henho.com becoming an especially popular venue.

But with the advent of new dating methods, online encounters are losing ground. Today, many young professionals still want to save time, but prefer meeting their better half offline, that is, face to face.

At US-owned CleverLearn language school, young adults meet during singing, dancing and game activities, and at UK-owned Apollo Education and Training Centre, romantic wannabes sign up for speed dating, which was the rage in the US several years ago.

Apollo students try to glean as much information as possible during conversations in English that can last only three minutes.

"But you shouldn't expect to find your better half right away," says Nguyen Viet Dung, 25, a software expert at an electronics firm in HCM City. "This kind of dating is just an opportunity to make new friends. If you're lucky enough to find a potential mate, there's still a long way to go before you can turn potential into reality." — VNS

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