The never-ending adventures of a travel writer in Vietnam, Cambodia, New Zealand and throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Banh Bao with Cardboard and Lye

CNN has a new story on their website about steamed buns in China made with cardboard and lye fillings (with pork fat and seasoning for flavor). I’m not terribly surprised. Banh Bao has a bad reputation around Phan Thiet, whether it is true on not. My friends tell me it has rat meat in it. I’ve bitten into plenty with cardboard-like fillings that were just too tough and chewy to be merely pork and quail eggs. The desert variety with beans also seems to end up with an ammonia-sulfurous taste that’s a little alarming. Still, most of the time they are good, and I do buy them a lot in the Phan Thiet market and downtown at night. In Mui Ne a couple of guys also sell them on bicycle carts, much like the ice cream and baguette sellers.

Toxic additives in food are not uncommon. Formaldehyde is a known ingredient in some Vietnamese beers, and borax shows up in some of the pickled meat products. Not long ago there was a scandal in China over chalk in the baby formula. Babies were losing weight and dieing from malnutrition and no one knew why for the longest time.

What bothers me is the unrelenting number of stories CNN and other news agencies with anti-China bias keep throwing out to us about China. I don’t doubt all the stories about dangerous food additives in products—I’ve lived there after all—it’s no big secret. It’s only a revelation to the poor saps in the USA. However, I think it’s unfair to level all these accusations solely at China. The truth is, you’ll find exactly the same issues in any other developing country in the world—whether it’s India, Cambodia, Uganda, Bolivia or France.

Furthermore, you’ll find the same things in the USA if you look hard enough—at the risk of a lawsuit for exposing the truth. Up until very recently, “fiber” in the list of ingredients was a way to disguise a healthy scoop of sawdust. The sad fact is, all foods made in bulk in factories are permitted “acceptable levels” of inedible ingredients.

The hypocrisy bothers me—especially the way we Americans go ape over “all the MSG” in Asian foods, conveniently forgetting it’s in all our foods back home too. We get upset about the MSG shaker on the table with all the other condiments in Vietnam, but we don’t realize MSG is dumped in all our potato chips and vacuum-sealed cupcakes. Even worse, we use known carcinogens like aspartame which deposit deadly formaldehyde in the brain.

I suspect that as we get closer and closer to the Beijing Olympics we’ll see more and more negative, hypocritical articles about China from our biased news media.

3 comments:

Bob Miller said...

My feelings are that we should either hang or poison all who attempt to tell the truth. The truth is a terrible thing; it distorts everything our government and other governments tell us. Going with the lies makes life simple. Baaaa Does anyone know where they keep the sheep dip?

Tank said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tank said...

I love Banh Bao so much, especially Banh Bao in the shops near Phan Thiet market. Although there is Banh Bao in Japan, I cannot find any delicous kinds like in Phan Thiet.
In spite of the ammonia-sulfurous smell of the desert Banh Bao, my sisters and I love eating it. We ate them a lot when we were very young, and we have no health problem until now.

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