The surprising halal delights of Ho Chi Minh

The surprising halal delights of Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi Minh City is named after the revolutionary socialist leader who united North and South Vietnam. (Shutterstock)
Updated 16 May 2018

The surprising halal delights of Ho Chi Minh

The surprising halal delights of Ho Chi Minh
  • As its the gateway to the “real” Vietnam and its stunning natural beauty, golden coastlines, rural culture, great food and war history, most travellers rarely spend more than a day or two in HCM
  • Here in the ‘capitalist’ south, HCM’s abundance of glassy towers, business centres and wide boulevards lined with popular Western brands

LONDON: Forever ‘Saigon’ to many, Ho Chi Minh City (HCM) — named after the revolutionary socialist leader who united North and South Vietnam — curiously ‘feels’ like Vietnam’s capital city, but it isn’t. That would be Hanoi in the ‘socialist’ north.

Here in the ‘capitalist’ south, HCM’s abundance of glassy towers, business centres and wide boulevards lined with popular Western brands — absent in the north — represent modern Vietnam. There is another curious difference between the two cities. Whilst it is almost impossible to find a mosque or properly certified halal restaurant in Hanoi, HCM, home to nearly a tenth of Vietnam’s 65,000 or so Muslims, has a mosque in almost every district and plenty of halal food options.

As its the gateway to the “real” Vietnam and its stunning natural beauty, golden coastlines, rural culture, great food and war history, most travellers rarely spend more than a day or two in HCM. But the city has plenty to occupy you for that time.

For a start, you can immerse yourself in the hustle and bustle of a typical Vietnamese market inside the covered Binh Tay. Originally built by French colonialists in the 1880s, then rebuilt by Chinese philanthropist Quach Dam, it’s a delightful atmosphere in which to grab your morning coffee, maybe a souvenir or two, and dip into the apparent chaos of Vietnamese life.

No trip to Vietnam is complete without eating Pho; the delicious noodle soup made by cooking sliced thin strips of beef in boiling broth, topped with local green veg and garnished with a freshly squeezed lime. For Muslims, Nguyen An Ninh, a ‘halal’ street off the western edge of Binh Tay, is the place for Pho. Try Halal Osman Restaurant, Kempung Melayu and Restaurant Basirah, or if you’re really lucky you might stumble across one of the rare local halal Pho foodcarts. This street is also a great place to meet Vietnamese Muslims.

After your fill of Pho, take a short walk northeast towards the River Saigon and listen out for the dhur adhan emanating from four ornate minarets. Saigon Central Mosque was built in 1935 by South Indians on the site of an older mosque and is a colourful mix of bright lime-green and pink on whites and blues. Perform your wudu in the large pool, before stepping in to join the small congregation.

From the mosque, you can head directly north for 20 minutes to the city’s botanical gardens — a colonial legacy of wonderfully lush and exotic greenery, and the perfect place for an afternoon stroll with the family. If you have children, there is also an onsite zoo with an impressive variety of animals, including African rhinos and Madagascar lemurs — though their living conditions need improving. A visit here is also easily combined with the History Museum, which is literally next door and the best place in which to learn about Vietnam’s cultural evolution. Their exhibits include artifacts from the period of the Champa — the only local rulers to embrace Islam.

We’d recommend ending your day by following the river back south to The Bitexco Financial Tower, which shoots 262 meters into the sky with a round ‘tambourine’ 48 floors up — the impressive ‘Skydeck’, offering the finest views across the city, particularly at sunset. Jumping into the vertigo-inducing lift and heading to floor 48 is the best way to end your time in HCM.


Editor, co-writer Hind Shoufani discusses Oscar-nominated short ‘The Present’

Editor, co-writer Hind Shoufani discusses Oscar-nominated short ‘The Present’
Updated 9 min 44 sec ago

Editor, co-writer Hind Shoufani discusses Oscar-nominated short ‘The Present’

Editor, co-writer Hind Shoufani discusses Oscar-nominated short ‘The Present’
  • ‘We created something that speaks to what an occupation takes away from people,’ Shoufani says

BEIRUT: “It’s immensely surprising, and a step in the right direction for the Academy,” says

Palestinian-American filmmaker, writer and poet, Hind Shoufani, of this year’s list of Oscar-nominated short films. “They’re looking at diversity, women’s voices, underrepresented minorities; they’re paying attention to intense, conflict-driven and truthful stories.”

One such story was crafted by Shoufani and compatriot Farah Nabulsi. “The Present” — directed by Nabulsi — has already won a BAFTA in the British Short Film category and is nominated for Best Live Action Short Film at this month’s Academy Awards.

Shoufani believes that “The Present” owes much of its capacity to resonate with so many people to its authenticity (it was shot in the West Bank) and the simplicity of the story. (Supplied)

Available on Netflix, “The Present” chronicles a day in the life of Yousef, compellingly depicted by renowned Palestinian actor Saleh Bakri, who sets out across the West Bank to buy a birthday gift for his wife. His 10-year-old daughter, played by the talented Mariam Kanj, joins him on a journey peppered with the injustice and humiliation emblematic of the daily plight of people living in the Occupied Territories.

Shoufani — a Fulbright scholar born to Palestinian parents in 1978 in Lebanon who has lived between Damascus, Amman, Beirut, New York and Dubai — explains that the partnership between Nabulsi and herself was “collaborative and fruitful.” The director supplied the film’s overarching themes and inspiring narrative threads and Shoufani fleshed them out in script and dialogue, introducing crucial plot elements, such as the daughter as a character.

“We had long sessions where we would go through different drafts of the script, talk through scenes and negotiate ideas,” says Shoufani, who also edited the film. “We ended up creating something that speaks to the heart of what an occupation takes away from people, in terms of agency and the ordinary ability to have freedom of movement and dignity.”

“The Present” is available on Netflix. (Supplied)

Shoufani believes that “The Present” owes much of its capacity to resonate with so many people to its authenticity (it was shot in the West Bank) and the simplicity of the story.

“Most people nowadays don’t want to sit for two hours and watch a highly nuanced, socioeconomic/class-driven, ethnographically correct, anthropologically dense film,” she says. “We don’t try to explain the past 70 years of Zionism, we don’t moralize or make grandstanding political statements... Instead, you have this ordinary man with a beautiful daughter whom anyone would only want to protect and love. Your natural human instinct is to want to keep this little girl safe and make sure she’s okay.”

And while Bakri’s Yousef is seemingly the protagonist, it is ultimately Kanj’s portrayal of Yasmine that steals the show and infuses the film with a powerful message. “She has a strong hand in how the story resolves. It’s about the power of youth and women. It’s inspiring but also heartbreaking. And it gives us an opportunity to appreciate the strength and determination of this 10-year-old kid.”

“The Present” chronicles a day in the life of Yousef, compellingly depicted by renowned Palestinian actor Saleh Bakri, who sets out across the West Bank to buy a birthday gift for his wife. (Supplied)

Shoufani passionately praises everyone involved, especially Palestinian producer Ossama Bawardi. “I introduced Ossama to Farah, and I couldn’t be happier for him — he put this crew together in the West Bank and did all he could to get this film out into the world. He really believed in it, and I want to give him a shout-out because he’s just awesome.”

Though “bewildered” and “astounded” by the industry’s acclaim for “The Present,” Shoufani is equally thrilled by many of her other endeavors, including two personal projects that are close to her heart.

One is “They Planted Strange Trees,” her upcoming film that documents “the various identities of the Christian minorities in the Galilee,” where Shoufani’s family is from. While being intrigued “to explore indigenous communities that people don’t really talk about much around the world,” the journey is also very personal. “It’s also about reconnecting with my family, and what it means to not belong, and yet very much belong there.”

“They Planted Strange Trees” is her upcoming film that documents “the various identities of the Christian minorities in the Galilee.” (Supplied) 

The other is a four-part series that captures the stories of four female Arab poets and draws its working title — “Poeticians” — from a group that Shoufani founded. “We’ve filmed in five or six Arab countries for eight years, and I’m trying to create a purely video-art-driven essay on taking poetry into a visual language. I can’t imagine anything more beautiful than making films that are based on poems.”

In the short term, however, she is very much looking forward to seeing how “The Present” does at the Oscars.

“I think it is vital that global audiences see this film, and I’m proud to be part of that experience,” she says. “As Palestinians, we have an unending array of stories to bring to life, because of our diaspora, our fight, our complex history and our strength. And, yes, our profound beauty as people.”


US-Palestinian actor Mo Amer to star in DC Comics’ ‘Black Adam’

It is still unknown what role Mo Amer will play. (Instagram)
It is still unknown what role Mo Amer will play. (Instagram)
Updated 14 April 2021

US-Palestinian actor Mo Amer to star in DC Comics’ ‘Black Adam’

It is still unknown what role Mo Amer will play. (Instagram)

DUBAI: US-Palestinian stand-up comedian Mohammed Amer, who goes by the name Mo Amer, is set to star alongside US actor Dwayne Johnson in the new superhero movie “Black Adam.”

The action-adventure thriller is DC Comics’ long-awaited follow-up to 2019’s commercial hit “Shazam!” with the two characters, Shazam and Black Adam, being rivals in the DC Universe.

It is still unknown what role Amer will play.

 

 

The talent is famous for his role in the award-winning Hulu sitcom “Ramy,” in which he stars as US-Egyptian actor Ramy Youssef’s Muslim cousin who owns a diner. Amer also has a Netflix comedy special called “Mo Amer: The Vagabond.” 

Amer is not the only Arab actor in the cast. Tunisian-Dutch “Aladdin” star Marwan Kenzari confirmed in February that he is also starring in the movie, alongside actors Noah Centineo, Aldis Hodge and Quintessa Swindell.

 

 

Johnson, otherwise known as “The Rock” from his professional wrestling days, announced he was taking part in “Black Adam” two years ago on Instagram: “This role is unlike any other I’ve ever played in my career and I’m grateful to the bone we’ll all go on this journey together,” he wrote at the time. 

The movie was supposed to be released in December 2021, but was pushed back due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Production is expected to begin in April in Atlanta.

According to Deadline, “Black Adam” is set for release in July 2022.


Former Disney, Nickelodeon stars send Ramadan greetings to Muslim fans

Disney star Jennifer Stone wished her Muslim fans a blessed Ramadan. File/AFP
Disney star Jennifer Stone wished her Muslim fans a blessed Ramadan. File/AFP
Updated 14 April 2021

Former Disney, Nickelodeon stars send Ramadan greetings to Muslim fans

Disney star Jennifer Stone wished her Muslim fans a blessed Ramadan. File/AFP

DUBAI: Fulfilling every millennial and Gen-Z’s childhood dreams, stars from shows like “Hannah Montana,” “Suite Life of Zack and Cody,” “Wizards of Waverly Place,” and “Drake and Josh” came together to wish their Muslim fans a blessed Ramadan this week. 

Non-profit, US-based initiative Paani Project brought the stars together in a one-minute long video, which it shared on its official Twitter platform on the first day of the Holy Month.

“Ramadan Kareem,” wrote the non-profit on Twitter. “Paani brought out a few childhood favorites to share a message with you all.”

The video featured the likes of Lindsay Lohan, Jesse McCartney, Jennifer Stone, Phil Lewis, Maria Canals-Barrera, Drake Bell and skateboarder Tony Hawk.

“Hannah Montana” star Jason Earles sent greetings to “all my wonderful, beautiful and inspirational Muslim brothers and sisters.”

Meanwhile, Kyle Massey, who played Corey Baxter in “That’s So Raven” and “Corey in the House” said “I want to wish you guys a happy Ramadan. It is the most amazing time of the year and I want you guys to stay blessed and continue to make each other happy and be nice to one another.”

Paani Project was founded by four Pakistani-American students on a quest to provide sustainable solutions for the water crises in Pakistan.

“Wishing you a happy Ramadan, and thank you for all your work you’re doing in South Asia, building wells,” said Hawk in the clip. 

Naturally, millennials and Gen Z’ers on the social media platform were thrilled, sharing their excitement in response to the clip.

“I never knew I needed Mr. Mosbey and Mrs. Russo to wish me Ramadan Kareem.  Thank u 3ammo w 3amto (sic),” wrote one user, in reference to two characters from Disney sitcoms.

“I love this so much, so many of my childhood favorite actors are here! Warmed my heart to see it and great respect to the project for building wells and helping out!” wrote another.


Lebanon’s Zuhair Murad creates custom gown for iconic Egyptian actress Sherihan’s Ramadan comeback

Sherihan wore custom Zuhair Murad for her on-screen return. YouTube
Sherihan wore custom Zuhair Murad for her on-screen return. YouTube
Updated 14 April 2021

Lebanon’s Zuhair Murad creates custom gown for iconic Egyptian actress Sherihan’s Ramadan comeback

Sherihan wore custom Zuhair Murad for her on-screen return. YouTube

DUBAI: Iconic Egyptian actress Sherihan is back. After a 20-year-hiatus, the famed television star, who is beloved the world over for her “Fawazeer” series that traditionally aired during Ramadan, returned to our screens in an advertisement for Vodafone Egypt that marked the first day of the Holy Month.

In the ad, the trained singer and dancer wore a design by Lebanese couturier Zuhair Murad who created a bespoke look for the actress. 

Directed by Ahmed Shaker Khudai, the nostalgic, four-minute ad tells the story of Sherihan’s career, starting with her very first Ramadan fawazeer in 1985 –  a riddle show that started on Egyptian radio in the 1960s, which soon moved into television–  until her car accident in 1989, followed a years-long battle with cancer.

Murad took to Instagram to share his excitement over Sherihan’s on-screen return, writing: “After more than 20 years @sherihanofficial makes an impressive comeback with an ad for @vodafoneegypt that leaves a strong impression and takes the social media by storm,” adding “The star is wearing custom made @zuhairmuradofficial. The ad portrays her resilience in a journey that was filled with ups and downs.”


Fine-dining expert Fatima Osman’s top tips for the perfect iftar table setting

Fine-dining expert Fatima Osman’s top tips for the perfect iftar table setting
Updated 14 April 2021

Fine-dining expert Fatima Osman’s top tips for the perfect iftar table setting

Fine-dining expert Fatima Osman’s top tips for the perfect iftar table setting

DUBAI: After a year during which most people have spent more time at home than ever before, the month of Ramadan has also seen a pivotal shift in how it is celebrated.

No longer can fasting Muslims congregate in crowds around sumptuous hotel buffets or gather in large groups for a family iftar. The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has put paid to that, certainly for now.

But, according to Fatima Osman, breaking the daily fast can still be a lavish and momentous event.

The founder of fine-dining tableware business, A’ish, believes that iftar at home can be as opulent as dining in a restaurant, with the help of what she refers to as “tablescaping.”

Fatima Osman is the founder of fine-dining tableware business A’ish. (Supplied)

The phrase is used to describe the creation of the perfect table set-up for hosting family gatherings (COVID-19 safety compliant, of course) at iftar time. Osman said it was all about beautiful accessories and finishing touches, but she noted that it did not need to break the bank.

Her “key element” to setting up a table was the charger plate, a large, decorative base setting that other dinnerware was then placed on top of. That, along with some “distinctive cutlery,” could elevate any place setting, she added. It also meant that any crockery, preferably plain, could be placed on top.

“That way, you don’t need to invest in a crockery set, you can use simple things. It adds that element of glamour and a touch of luxury, and automatically elevates the experience,” she said.

Osman pointed out that accessorizing was the next most important aspect of setting up her table with simple touches such as adding napkin rings, fresh flowers for the centerpiece, and putting thought into what platter to use for serving food.

Osman pointed out that accessorizing was the next most important aspect of setting up her table. (Shutterstock)

“To me, the setting is just as important as the food. So much effort goes into the preparation of the meal, and I believe that the presentation of the food and setting is appreciation of the effort,” she added.

Before starting her business, named after her daughter Aisha, Osman was a lawyer in South Africa. She said formal dining had always been a staple of her annual Ramadan experience.

Buoyed by a family background in trade, she turned her passion for homeware into a company four years ago and has not looked back.

“Dining is so important to me as it was an integral part of my day with my family, and this is a legacy I wish to continue for my kids.

Fatima Osman’s business is named after her daughter Aisha. (Shutterstock)

“There was a lot of preparation that went into our iftar and while I am not insinuating that it should be that way, I do insist on the time and memories we created by just being around a table.

“If the best memories are made this way, shouldn’t we be using our best utensils, our best dinnerware, for the best company for the best reason?”

Her table setting is on show at a new exhibition during Ramadan at Dubai’s Indigo Living, the luxury home furnishing company. The display features a range of homeware and accessories from local female entrepreneurs and artisans.

Osman said: “I understand this is a month of prayer, but nobody said you can’t also have a good time. For me, a table and dinner and iftar signifies togetherness, this is a time to enjoy and go all out.”