March 31, 2006

Ethnic media filling the gap


By K. Oanh Ha
Mercury News

Three new Vietnamese-language newspapers and an online news outlet are vying to fill the void left by the closing of the Mercury News' Viet Mercury publication, underscoring the vibrancy of ethnic media even as mainstream newspapers face uncertain futures.

Two former Viet Mercury editors plan to start publishing in the next two months while the paper's former advertising manager has launched an online news portal. A third newspaper plans to offer bilingual business news.

The publications aim to nab readers of Viet Mercury, which ceased publication in November.

“The enthusiasm for replacing Viet Mercury speaks about the viability of the market,'' said Jim Nguyen, Viet Mercury's former advertising manager who founded online news site VietUSA News after leading an unsuccessful attempt to purchase the paper. The site will soon relaunch as a news portal catering to Vietnamese readers globally, Nguyen said.

Former editor De Tran and his managing editor, Hoang Xuan Nguyen, have plans for separate publications modeled after the one they ran together for almost seven years.

The proliferation of Vietnamese and other ethnic publications is in stark contrast to the challenges facing mainstream newspapers: declining readership and advertising. Knight Ridder, the nation's second-largest newspaper chain and owner of the Mercury News, agreed to be purchased by McClatchy, a sale forced by major stockholders unhappy about Knight Ridder's financial performance. McClatchy has announced it will sell the Mercury News and 11 other Knight Ridder papers.

The landscape of the ethnic press is dramatically different. About a dozen Vietnamese publications now circulate in the Bay Area. Readers of Chinese can choose from at least six dailies and Indian-Americans, at least six monthly and weekly publications.

Richer coverage

Ethnic media, including television, online and radio, reaches one-fourth of the entire U.S. population and 80 percent of adults in minority communities, according to a 2005 study by New America Media, a San Francisco-based association of ethnic publications.

“If all the mainstream media went on strike, I wouldn't miss a beat,'' said Ling-chi Wang, a prolific reader of Chinese publications who heads Asian-American studies at the University of California-Berkeley. “What I read in Chinese papers is so much richer than mainstream content . . . There's many more pages of news about Asia.''

The success of ethnic publications goes hand-in-hand with increased immigration. The Chinese-American population in Santa Clara county more than doubled between 1990 and 2004 to 134,000 while the Vietnamese-American population also doubled, to 107,000. Numbers of Indian-Americans grew nearly threefold, to 72,000. As a result, the circulation of monthly magazine India Currents increased 20 percent, to 22,000, in Northern California over the past five years.

“It's pretty competitive,'' said editor Ashok Jethanandani. “I've seen so many publications come and go.''

The ethnic press thrives on a symbiotic relationship with mom-and-pop enterprises since both predominantly serve the local immigrant communities. “Korean dry cleaners need Korean media to grow their businesses,'' said Sandy Close, founder of New America Media.

Still, ethnic press have challenges of their own. Readership drops off considerably with the second generation, according to a 2003 San Francisco State University study on ethnic media.

Mindful of that, two of the upcoming Vietnamese publications plan to offer some English content.

Leaders at the new ventures say they want to emulate Viet Mercury, which was well-received by readers for its balanced journalism and high professional standards in a community where advocacy journalism is the norm and papers are susceptible to pressures from political and business interests.

Viet Mercury was also the first local Vietnamese newspaper to attract mainstream advertisers on a large scale rather than relying on just area immigrant businesses for revenue. The new publications hope to pair that model with lower overhead that will allow them to charge less for ads.

Viet Mercury charged up to $1,000 for a full-page ad, and couldn't pull in enough high-paying advertisers. Vietnamese publications typically charge $120 for a full-page ad.

But competition is already intense, and some watchers doubt the market is large enough for many more entrants. All four of the new Vietnamese publications are currently talking to one another about combining forces.

Quality — and profit

Tran, whose VTimes publication makes its debut next month, is convinced he can deliver both quality and profit. “We'll have the same quality of Viet Mercury,'' he said. “But we'll do it for less and we'll be able to charge much less for advertising.''

Tran wants his paper to be “a bridge to connect Vietnamese-Americans to the larger community,'' he said. Viet Tribune, headed by Hoang Nguyen, will focus on culture and lifestyle, particularly on issues affecting women and seniors.

Each of the new papers is being jump-started with only a few hundred thousand dollars. They aim for circulations around 20,000, compared with Viet Mercury's 57,000. They will rely on freelancers for most content.

The small scale of those operations leave many wondering whether they can match Viet Mercury's editorial content.

“Viet Mercury raised the quality,'' said Nguyen Qui Duc, the Vietnamese-American host of KQED's Pacific Time program. “I don't know that anyone can duplicate that because no one has those resources.''

Nguyen of VietUSA News said he wants to replicate Viet Mercury's “integrity'' but said there may be limitations. “Because we had the backing and protection of the Mercury News, we were able to be bold and courageous about exposing fraud and write exposes,'' he said. “With a community newspaper that has no shield, would we be able to do those same kinds of stories?''

Tran is undeterred: “A paper that's high-quality, objective and well-designed — there's a great need for it in the community.''

Contact K. Oanh Ha at or (408) 278-3457.

March 31, 2006

War not yet over, says American veteran
   03/29/2006 — 21:50(GMT+7)

Ha Noi (VNA) – The war has never ended for the Vietnamese people, for the American veterans, and for the children who are still suffering, an American Viet Nam veteran said.

"We can see the people are injured, we can see the names of the people that died, but often we forget about the people that were poisoned by the weapon that we couldn't see. All those people who suffered are still suffering, generation after generation," Daniel J. Shea, Director of Education without Borders and member of Veterans for Peace of the state of Oregon, told VNA reporters on the sidelines of the International Conference on Agent Orange/Dioxin Victims held in Ha Noi on March 28 and 29.

According to Shea, he may have been exposed to Agent Orange in Quang Tri, or Da Nang central provinces during the war in Viet Nam. The veteran had a son who was born with congenital heart disease and other abnormalities, who died in 1981 when he was three years old.

"At that time, I wasn't concerned about applying for compensation, but I am spending the rest of my life trying to work for peace and justice in different ways," Shea said.

The veteran said his own physical health is satisfactory, but he has psychological health issues stemming from the legacy of Agent Orange. He worried about his married daughter having children and whether they may be born with abnormalities. "In Viet Nam there is evidence that it goes from generation to generation. It's a great fear for me to see whether I might have a grandchild that suffers," Shea explained.

By attending the conference, Shea said he hoped to help people in the world realise the plight of Agent Orange victims. "It's important for Viet Nam to make US chemical producers pay now and demand reparations so that we can prevent further destruction of the earth," he stressed.

Regarding the lawsuit against American chemical producers filed by Vietnamese Agent Orange victims, Shea said if more people join in solidarity with the people in Viet Nam and bring more and more people all over the world, the prospects for the suit will improve.

He affirmed that his voice and the voices of other war veterans will help raise awareness and support for the victims.–Enditem

Little Saigon, at home

March 31, 2006

Little Saigon, at home

Ann Le worried that her family's recipes would be lost, so she gathered her favorites and published a cookbook.

By Mary MacVean, Times Staff Writer
March 29, 2006
ANN Le's parents married in 1975, a week before the end of the Vietnam War and three days before they joined relatives in two boats for an uncertain future that led from South Vietnam to a Korean refugee camp, to Minnesota and finally to Southern California.

They were among the early residents of Little Saigon in Westminster, a lively culinary destination with 200 markets, bakeries and cafes in 3 square miles, Le says. The first restaurants, she says, were just dining rooms of private homes where residents served inexpensive, family-style meals.


Growing up, Le, her brother and their parents ate Vietnamese food almost exclusively, often heading to one restaurant on Bolsa Avenue (that's no longer in business) at the end of her parents' long workdays. "I recall almost having the menu memorized," she says. "Everything was family-style."

They usually ate steamed rice, a salad platter, a meat or fish dish and a consommé. But sometimes her grandmother cooked for the family — dishes such as braised fish, chicken salad and bun rieu, a soup with crab, tomato and noodles.

Fearing those recipes would be lost because they were not written down, Le began gathering them, finally producing "The Little Saigon Cookbook" (Globe Pequot Press), published not long before her grandmother died this year.

Le, 28, is an investment banker, not a professional cook, and she says it was a challenge to write recipes that her family and friends had only passed along orally.

"I hope people modify them," she says. "That what's we do at home. Everyone has their way."

Her grandmother's way with the sweet braised dishes called kho was among Le's favorites. Especially braised catfish, cooked in a clay pot with lemon-lime or coconut soda and black and chile peppers. A nearly vegetarian version (except for the fish sauce) uses eggplant.

Le, who now lives in Silver Lake, returns often to see her family — and to shop. On a recent Sunday morning, she joined the crowd at the ABC Supermarket.

The aisles were packed, the shelves precariously crowded. In the produce section, Le surveyed the banana buds, bitter melons, fresh water chestnuts, lemongrass, small white eggplants, a dozen fresh herbs. Le put Vietnamese coriander, Thai basil and mint into her cart.

Next, condiments: The huge assortment included dozens of varieties of nuoc nam, fish sauce made from salted, dried fish, usually anchovies. Le recommends those from either Phu Quoc or Phan Thiet. The fish sauce is essential for nuoc cham, the dipping sauce Le says you'll find on every Vietnamese table; to make it, Le combines the nuoc nam with lime juice, sugar and chiles.

Among the nods to busy modern lives were little tubs of chopped frozen lemongrass — a product Le says would surely have met her grandmother's disapproval — and pre-shredded green papaya.

Le looks askance at that convenience. She uses a plastic mandoline to make the pretty, almost translucent shreds that are the main ingredient in a wonderfully fragrant salad, gói du dú, that also calls for Thai bird chile, Vietnamese coriander, Thai basil and fermented fish sauce. Le says the traditional salad is topped with a dried, spiced beef that's available in the grocery stores of Little Saigon. But she likes it with cooked shrimp — boiled or grilled.

To make a warm "shaking beef" salad (bò lúc lâc), Le marinates cubes of beef in nuoc nam, garlic and oyster sauce, "shaking" the container so the beef is coated. She quickly sautés plenty of sliced onion, then adds in the beef with all its marinade, stirring as it cooks. Then she spoons the rich-looking mixture onto tender watercress leaves, tops it with quartered tomatoes and serves it with steamed rice.

Asked what sort of rice she uses, Le laughs. She uses whatever brand her mother has gotten for free in a supermarket promotion — a sign of the fierce competition among Little Saigon supermarkets.

To round out the menu, Le makes a dish that's rarely found in restaurants: gà chiên, chicken pan-fried with mint and ginger. She combines nuoc nam, ginger, garlic, Vietnamese coriander, onion and oil and marinates the chicken in it overnight. After the chicken is cooked, she cooks the marinade briefly to turn it into a sauce.

The home-style dish couldn't be easier. The recipe for it in Le's book calls for assorted chicken parts with the skin removed, but it's even better made with all thighs, with the skin left on.


Green papaya salad with shrimp (Gói du dú)

Time: 40 minutes

Servings: 4

Note: Adapted from "The Little Saigon Cookbook" by Ann Le. You can prepare this salad up to an hour before serving, but no longer or the herbs will wilt. Green papayas and Thai basil are available at Asian markets. For 3 cups julienned green papaya, use a portion of 1 small green papaya (about 2 pounds); save the remainder for another use.

1/3 pound large shrimp, cleaned, deveined

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper

Juice of 1 small lime

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon sugar

2 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce (nuoc nam)

1/2 fresh Thai bird chile, finely chopped ( 1/4 teaspoon chopped)

1 tablespoon oil

1 tablespoon minced shallots

3 cups julienned green papaya

1/4 cup chopped fresh Vietnamese coriander leaves, divided

1/4 cup chopped fresh Thai basil leaves, divided

3 tablespoons finely chopped, unsalted dry-roasted peanuts

1. Heat a grill pan or grill. Place the shrimp in a bowl. Add the olive oil, salt and pepper and toss to coat. Grill until opaque in the center, about 3 minutes per side. Remove from the grill, cool and slice in half lengthwise.

2. In a small bowl, combine the lime juice, garlic, sugar, fish sauce and chopped chile. Whisk until the sugar is dissolved.

3. In a small skillet or saucepan, heat the oil. Fry the minced shallots until golden brown. Drain and add to the fish sauce mixture.

4. Julienne the papaya or mangoes into thin, matchstick strips 2 inches long until you have 3 cups. Place in a large serving bowl or platter. Pour the dressing all over the strips, evenly coating them. Toss with 2 tablespoons coriander and 2 tablespoons Thai basil.

5. Top the dressed papaya with cooked shrimp and garnish with the peanuts, the remaining 2 tablespoons coriander and the remaining 2 tablespoons basil.

Each serving: 214 calories; 9 grams protein; 15 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 14 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 55 mg. cholesterol; 1,083 mg. sodium.


Pan-fried spicy chicken with mint and ginger (Gà chiên)

Total time: 50 minutes plus 4 hours to overnight marinating

Servings: 3

Note: Adapted from "The Little Saigon Cookbook" by Ann Le. Look for Vietnamese coriander leaves and Thai bird chiles in Asian markets.

6 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 1/2 teaspoons ground white pepper

1/2 onion, finely chopped

5 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/4 cup chopped fresh Vietnamese coriander leaves

1/3 cup roughly chopped fresh mint leaves

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger

1/4 cup fish sauce (nuoc nam)

1 fresh Thai bird chile, finely chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

2 pounds bone-in skin-on chicken thighs (about 6 pieces)

Fresh mint and cilantro leaves to garnish

Steamed rice

1. First make the marinade. In a large bowl, combine 1 tablespoon of the oil, the white pepper, onion, garlic, coriander leaves, mint leaves, ginger, fish sauce, chile, and sugar. Stir well until the sugar is dissolved.

2. Clean the chicken thighs and pat them dry. Put them in a large bowl or shallow dish and pour the marinade on top. Rub the marinade all over the chicken until each piece is evenly coated. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.

3. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking. Wipe the marinade off the chicken and reserve marinade. Find a heavy frying pan large enough to fit the chicken pieces in one layer. Pour the remaining 5 tablespoons oil into the pan and heat over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the chicken, skin side down.

4. Immediately reduce the heat to medium-low and cook the chicken for 4 to 5 minutes until skin is golden brown. Turn over and cook the other side for about 15 minutes or until done. Test the chicken for doneness by pricking it with a fork; when the juices run clear, remove the chicken from the pan and keep warm.

5. Pour out the fat and return the pan to medium heat. Spoon in the reserved marinade and stir to bring up the brown bits on bottom of pan cooking 2 to 3 minutes. Add one-half cup water and bring to a boil. Turn down and simmer for a few more minutes. Return the chicken to the pan to reheat if necessary.

6. Serve the chicken with steamed rice and garnish with fresh cilantro and mint leaves. Drizzle the pan sauce over the chicken and serve.

Each serving of two thighs: 675 calories; 42 grams protein; 8 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 52 grams fat; 11 grams saturated fat; 149 mg. cholesterol; 1992 mg. sodium.


Warm 'shaking beef' salad with watercress and tomatoes (Bò lúc lâc)

Total time: 40 minutes

Servings: 6

Note: Adapted from "The Little Saigon Cookbook" by Ann Le.

1 pound beef (filet or sirloin; best grade recommended)

5 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1/4 cup fish sauce (nuoc nam)

1 teaspoon black pepper

2 tablespoons oyster sauce

6 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

2 bunches watercress, stems removed, about 5 cups

2 onions, cut in half and sliced

1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

4 plum tomatoes, cut into quarters

1. Cut the beef into 1-inch cubes.

2. Prepare the marinade in a bowl or container with a lid by combining 2 tablespoons of the oil, the fish sauce, black pepper, oyster sauce, garlic and sugar. Mix well until the sugar is dissolved, then add the beef cubes. Cover the bowl or container and shake the cubes to evenly coat the meat (or you can simply stir). Leave the cover on and let the container sit for 20 minutes on the counter.

3. Clean the watercress and arrange it on a large serving platter or dish.

4. In a large skillet, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons oil over high heat. When it is hot, add the onion. Sauté for just a few minutes, then throw in the beef with its marinade and toss quickly. You need to cook for only 5 minutes over low to medium heat for the meat to be medium rare; continue tossing as it cooks. Cook it longer if you prefer.

5. When the meat is cooked, turn off the burner and stir in the cornstarch to thicken the sauce. Spoon onto the watercress and top with tomato wedges. Serve family style with steamed rice.

Each serving: 248 calories; 18 grams protein; 11 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 15 grams fat; 3 grams saturated fat; 35 mg. cholesterol; 1011 mg. sodium.