Vietnamese chef adds to Mauritius pleasure

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A beach view from Mauritius Republic, which is considered a richer part of Africa with more than one million foreign tourists coming every year

Pham Thong Van almost burst into tears on hearing his mother tongue spoken.

"It's been a very long time since I heard Vietnamese. I'm probably the only Vietnamese person here," said Van, who has been living in Mauritius for two years after he left Vietnam 12 years ago and traveled to various Gulf countries.

His opportunity to speak and hear Vietnamese came when a few media delegates from Vietnam called on him. They had been invited by Mauritius Airlines as part of attempts to develop tourism links between the island nation and Vietnam.

Van is a chef at a very high-end resort called Veranda Heritage in the southwest of the Mauritius Republic.

"He is a famous chef," said Fabien Lefébure, the communication manager of the restaurant.

Van, in his thirties, said he always wanted to go overseas to learn and become a boss.

The man from Ho Chi Minh City said there's no need for Vietnamese people to undersell themselves because they can be good at anything.

As a chef, he has been the boss of around 60 people from as many countries, he says.

Van said he is a wanted person on the island.

"My guests have to book three days in advance if they want Vietnamese dishes. They almost cry every time after eating, but they all come back," he says with a smile, explaining that the prices are very steep for Vietnamese cuisine.

"I charge US$50 a bowl of phở beef noodle soup, and $120 with extra spring rolls," he said.

The chef plants his own herbs to provide authentic cuisine, also as a way to make him feel less homesick.

Pham Thong Van is a chef at a very high-end resort called Veranda Heritage in the southwest of the Mauritius Republic

Van's efforts to promote a distinctive cuisine serves the cause of boosting tourism in Mauritius, which is considered a richer part of Africa.

"In 2011 alone, 300,000 French citizens visited our country," said Michael Yeung Sik Yuen, tourism minister of the Mauritius Republic.

He said the island of more than 1.2 million residents receives more than one million foreign tourists every year, and 45 percent of them return.

Many tourists are drawn to the always tranquil beaches on the island of more than 2,000 square kilometers that is protected by a natural coral dyke.

The formerly uninhabited island which has suffered various European invaders including the Portuguese, Dutch, French and British from the 10th century to 1968, is a tourism paradise now, with more than 150 resorts.

It is also an island that boasts considerable cultural diversity with its ethnic Indian, French and African populations.

After hearing about Vietnam's struggle to find a fitting tourism slogan, Yuen said it would only work when it expresses the things that tourists believe they are looking for.

"In 2008, we used the slogan "Mauritius-C'est Un Plaisir (Mauritius-It's a Pleasure)" and the tourist arrivals jumped by 65 percent," he said.

The minister said he is now eyeing the Asian market, including Vietnam.

"I hope that in the near future, many Vietnamese will come to our beautiful island nation and many people from Mauritius will visit yours," he told the Vietnamese media delegation.

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