A senior leader of the Vietnamese Communist Party was in London last week to visit the grave of Karl Marx, the philosopher whose writings defended the struggle of the proletariat to overthrow the ruling wealthy class.
While there, General To Lam also ate a steak covered in flakes of 24 karat gold at a restaurant owned by the social media star and restaurateur known as Salt Bae, according to a video the chef posted in line but which quickly disappeared. .
Many details of the meal were not available, including who else was present, what the total cost was, and who ultimately paid for it all.
But the short-lived video of it sparked anger in Vietnam, where it appeared to undermine the egalitarian image the Communist Party has carefully cultivated.
The video also put Facebook, the social media platform that often faces pressure from the Vietnamese government to censor content, under another unwanted spotlight. The widely used hashtag for the chef – #saltbae – has been temporarily blocked on Facebook.
Meta, the newly renamed parent company of Facebook, said in a statement that the #saltbae hashtag was unblocked on Tuesday and is investigating the reasons for its blocking.
Much of what is known about the meal comes from Salt Bae’s video, which was taken from the chef’s TikTok account, followed by nearly 11 million. It has given Vietnam an unwelcome image, at a time when the pandemic has strained so many people.
“This contrasts sharply with the disparity in living standards in Vietnamese society,” said Chinh Duong, Hanoi architect and political commentator. “Especially during the recent epidemic, when the budget is exhausted and workers are struggling for survival – such a lavish party of officials is offensive.”
While in London, the visitors “paid homage to those on the basis of whose theories the Vietnamese people overthrew the systems of oppression ruled by the colonialists and imperialists,” the ministry said.
General Lam also visited the London restaurant run by Nusret Gokce, known to his millions of followers on Instagram and TikTok as Salt Bae as much for his food as for his flare: black sunglasses, white shirt, elbow bent so let the salt fall like snowflakes. her gloved, sparkling fingers.
The meal appeared to include 24-karat gold tomahawk steaks, which according to the British newspaper The Guardian can cost as much as 850 pounds, or $ 1,150.
And, as Mr. Gokce has done several times before, he served the guest who ordered the golden steak and posted a video of it on TikTok.
Although the video was quickly removed from Mr. Gokce’s account, some people copied it and posted it elsewhere. In a YouTube video, Mr. Gokce serves three gold-coated steaks at a men’s table as several people watch.
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At one point, the video shows Mr. Gokce delicately balancing a slice of steak on the end of a long knife. He swings the knife on the table and puts the steak into the open mouth of a seated man. The man bites the steak and, apparently satisfied with the offer, raises his right hand and waves to the chef.
Mr. Gokce did not immediately respond to a direct message sent to TikTok requesting comment. The Vietnamese government could not immediately be reached for comment.
When asked, Facebook did not say whether the hashtag had been restricted regionally or globally. Facebook is widely used in Vietnam, and the government has sometimes strategically cut off access to it ahead of planned protests, and has asked Facebook and YouTube to help it eliminate fake accounts and “toxic” content, such as anti-government material, according to local newspaper Tuoi Tre.
Reuters, which first reported the hashtag blocked, said TikTok users in Vietnam who searched for the video were told it had been removed from the app for violating “community standards.”
Yet news of the ironically luxurious meal circulated widely on social media and sparked a backlash.
“What we are seeing is just the tip of a very big iceberg,” said Pham Minh Vu, blogger and dissident. “Everyone knows that Vietnamese officials are very corrupt, so when they see such an incident, they take the opportunity to express their anger. “
Famous Vietnamese writer Luu Trong Van said the opulence of the meal was shocking, as was the length of time the story was aired. “The odd thing is that the story has been burning for several days,” Mr. Van said. Normally, government censors can crush an unflattering story “in a matter of hours.”