Vietnam gets angry over minister's gold-leaf steak

Mr To Lam was seen tucking into the hunk of meat at Nusr-Et Steakhouse in the wealthy area of Knightsbridge. PHOTOS: SCREENGRABS FROM YOUTUBE

LONDON (AFP) - A video showing a powerful Vietnamese official enjoying a bite of steak smothered in gold leaf at a luxury London restaurant has sparked online anger in the South-east Asian country, where the average person earns a few dollars a day.

Mr To Lam, minister of public security - whose agency deals with the monitoring of dissent and surveillance of activists in the country - was seen tucking into the hunk of meat at Nusr-Et Steakhouse in the wealthy area of Knightsbridge.

Nusr-Et, named after Turkish chef Nusret Gokce - known to his nearly 40 million Instagram followers as Salt Bae - serves up steaks wrapped in edible 24-carat gold leaf, reportedly costing more than US$1,000 (S$1,350).

David Beckham, Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Campbell - and now the 64-year-old Mr Lam - have been among the visitors to the steakhouse's branches across the world.

The clip of the Vietnamese politician, which was originally posted by the restaurant before being removed, had spread across Tiktok and Facebook in Vietnam by Friday (Nov 5).

Many of those posting were angry about the decadence on display while the country struggles in the aftermath of a devastating wave of Covid-19 that has cost countless jobs and caused the heaviest contraction in Vietnam's gross domestic product on record.

"People are facing extreme difficulties due to the pandemic, but (officials) are enjoying themselves in the manner of world-class celebrities," wrote Mr Pham Viet Duc on Facebook.

Others posted pictures of poor children in Vietnam's most deprived regions in comments about the clip.

"It's only by accident that people saw this video, but they have always been spending money in this way or a thousand times more", said Mr Tommy Lee on Facebook.

The average Vietnamese citizen earned a monthly income of around US$184 last year, according to the country's General Statistics Office.

It is not clear exactly when the video was filmed, but Mr Lam was in Britain for the COP26 climate conference and met the British interior minister on Monday.

Mr Lam, a member of Vietnam's powerful 18-strong politburo, has been public security minister since 2016 and has taken a hard line on human rights movements in the communist country.

Three years ago, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was also criticised for eating at a branch of the same restaurant group in Turkey.

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