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One of the many theories puts the turn-of-the-century origin of the dish in the Hanoian kitchen of the Vietnamese lover of a French officer, as she attempted to make the celebrated meal of slow-cooked meat, vegetables and spices.

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Unable to get the. Haute Cuisine for the People When the French came, they brought with them strange ingredients and new cooking techniques. Baguettes, flans, yogurt and coffee are now ubiquitous, but there are a few Vietnamese dishes which may not be so obviously French-inspired. Chad Kubanoff, a chef trained in classical French cuisine and now Vietnamese street food expert, says, "banh xeo is probably the farthest removed from the original dish, but I much prefer the Vietnamese 'crepe' compared to the French.

The added texture and freshness brought by the Vietnamese cooking style have turned a relatively monotone dish into a new exciting creation, filled with contrasting flavors and textures. It's also a step towards a more balanced and healthy meal with all of the raw herbs and vegetables, compared to the sugar and carbohydrates loaded into the French version. But still, the concept is very similar. It is very 'un-Vietnamese' in its richer flavor and full-bodied broth.

Also serving a brothbased dish with a baguette is very rare to see in this country, definitely an ode to its French roots. Look at cafe sua da with its condensed milk and also the banh kem sau rieng. Other than using a durian flavored cream filling instead of a pastry cream, we're basically looking at a standard cream puff.

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I believe we have a great deal of cakes that are inspired by the French as well as a lot of vegetables and fruit products such as potatoes, asparagus and strawberries, just a few of the ingredients that are now used so frequently in local cooking. According to art expert Sophie Hughes, "Vietnam is quite unique in Asia because its fine art has been heavily influenced by the French. They also introduced the idea of the individual 'artiste' in society. Previously there were highly skilled artisans and craftsmen who worked in collectives or craft schools and produced works that focused on teaching moral tales or historical legends.

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The school and the work coming out of it reflected a shift from a traditional society ruled by Confucian principles into a modern one where the role of the individual was valued. Students were encouraged to use modern European ideas as a means of evolution from traditional Vietnamese art. Lacquer was introduced as a subject at the school and as a result shifted from being a craft material to a fine art, making Vietnam the only country in Asia to make fine art works Magnificent, ornate edifices like the Notre Dame Cathedral inaugurated in or the Saigon Opera House modeled after Paris' Petit Palais immediately spring to mind, but architecture lovers equally appreciate the more subtle structures like the Museum of Fine Arts building or the Dragon House Saigon's Ho Chi Minh Museum which fuse European elements like pillars and archways with Eastern ones, most notably the dragons on the roof.

Tim Doling, writer and local historian, says: "The French made an important contribution to Vietnam's urban fabric, from urban planning to architecture, including early structures influenced heavily by ethnic Vietnamese architecture, grand neo-colonial edifices intended to reflect the glories of empire and later 'Indochinois'-style buildings which fused both Eastern and Western architectural styles.

The French influence may still be seen today in a number of modern structures such as Union Square in HCMC's District 1 which has been sympathetically designed to harmonize with its immediate surroundings. In that sense, I don't blame the Vietnamese people for not feeling sentimental about it. The sentiment comes from foreigners really. We're the ones who want the buildings to stay. We like familiar things. We like to surround ourselves with memories of the good and the bad as reminders, as wayfinders. For instance if we don't hang on to some remnants of French colonialism, it may be more difficult to tell the stories about, and value, the struggle for independence.

I think our cities should be the same. It's not about celebrating the colonial era which, of course, was a traumatic period for the Vietnamese people, but rather about helping people to understand their past better. Preserving and re-using old buildings where it is possible to do so is also environmentally sound. But above all, these old buildings bring charm and character to the city and emphasize its uniqueness.

Many of them are historically significant and this can be a magnet for tourists which helps to regenerate neighborhoods and provide more jobs for local people. The art deco apartment block at Dong Khoi, another unlisted structure which even appears in Graham Greene's The Quiet American, is being demolished as we speak.


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Then there's the related issue of unfettered modification of historic buildings, such as the original Chambre de Commerce building at Me Linh Square which has been re-fronted several times so that it now bears little resemblance to the original. It's really important that someone takes an inventory of what's still there and protects the surviving buildings before it's too late.

And of course only the government has the power to do this," says Tim.

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Sophie adds: "Those buildings are. Contact him at or email: tim. Once referred to as the "Paris of the Orient," Saigon offers glimpses of the past through its shady, tree-lined avenues and its charming heritage buildings, be they Chinese or French-inspired. A tangible part of what makes the country distinctive, these buildings are part of a cultural heritage just as unique as its sidewalk coffee culture, the art of water puppetry or the haunting melodies of Northern ca tru folk music.

Unfortunately, that history is fast disappearing with every heritage building torn down to make way for commercial spaces, every villa abandoned for lack of resources or interest, every renovation that eats away at the soul of these grand edifices. However, these very areas are in danger of losing what makes them so unique.

TN: The first challenge is to identify and build consensus around what needs to be. Identifying these targets among experts and specialists is fine, but if the public shrugs their shoulders, it will be very hard. Secondly, how much of a building needs to be conserved? It is not necessarily percent.

The more complicated the conservation work is, the more expertise and research you need and that costs money. PB: The main challenges are to promote discussions with the residents to know how they live and how they want to adapt their city to modern evolutions. What historians and researchers in social sciences can contribute is to collect materials, pictures, maps, narratives of daily life and so on that can help in the study of urban space which is crucial to defining the future orientation of the city. TK: The redevelopment threat is intense and increasingly challenging.

For example, according to a recent inventory, there are 1, French villas in the French Colonial Quarter of Hanoi, and most of them are in a state of deterioration due to no maintenance and the fast rising number of inhabitants.

DIVISION OF VIETNAM, TAY SON REBELLION AND THE NGUYEN DYNASTY

Up to about 10 households share the same villa. Additionally, many valuable old buildings have been badly modified in forms of "redevelopment" or "adaptive reuse" in a negative way for commercial purposes. Conservation is sometimes seen as a luxury, often promoted by non-residents who like seeing these old buildings. The government or the people? PB: This is definitely a shared responsibility: local authorities to attract people, local people to show why they are attached to these specific sites, tourists that must respect the sites and their inhabitants.

But once you pass that threshold, time is of the essence. If you wait too long, the things you want to conserve won't be there anymore. The responsibility belongs. Expats can only help. The situation of the ancient town of Duong Lam 50 km from Hanoi , designated as a national relic for its centuries-old mud and wood houses, illustrates the challenges of community involvement.

follow link What successes, though, have you seen in the region? TN: Duong Lam village illustrates the cost of conserving heritage. The people had to live in small houses; when their children got married and they wanted to rebuild or renovate, the procedures were too complicated. Being designated a heritage site didn't bring any benefits to the actual people, materially or in spirit. On the other hand, Hoi An is a great example of having inclusive participation.


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City officials had the policy of involving the locals, and the result is now practically the entire town is behind the tourism initiatives. Con Dao, with its French colonial prison and limited tourism, is also a very special product where you have history and natural beauty. But some privately owned villas like Ly Club Saigon have been successful at retaining their character while giving them new life, mixing the classical with the modern but respecting the original architecture.

What are other countries doing regarding conservation that Vietnam may be able to learn from? Historian Tim Doling points out that heritage buildings have their own intrinsic value.