Bongkong! Mekong’s rock lobster | 7Days | 7Days: Life & Style

They go by many names: freshwater lobsters, king prawns, Mekong langoustines. But whatever the confusion over their identity, one thing is clear: we like them. The giant prawns of the Mekong Delta are in vogue, winning the hearts of many in Cambodia and beyond.

As the Cambodian middle and upper classes grow, local freshwater crustaceans are increasingly sought after in Cambodia’s upscale restaurants.

Known to Cambodians as bongkong and to the scientific community as macrobrachium rosenbergii, the giant river prawn lives in the estuaries of the Mekong Delta around Takeo, Prey Veng and southwestern Vietnam. They can grow to a 32 centimetres in length. Because of their enormous size, they are often billed as lobster, though officially classified as a prawn.

At Malis Restaurant, executive chef Luu Meng, who has rubbed shoulders on television with both Gordon Ramsay and Anthony Bourdain, is experimenting with several new dishes, including wok-fried bongkong served with prahok and fresh coconut juice, as well as bongkong marinated with garlic, sweet nutty pandan juice and served with a spicy tamarind sauce.

The flesh itself has a mild shrimpy taste and acts as a sponge for other flavours in the dish. It is much more subtle on the palate than saltwater shellfish and has a firmer texture than most shrimp or lobster.

Meng described bongkong, which begin their lives in the Mekong’s mouth and work their way up the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers, as a worthwhile alternative to their sea-dwelling lobster brethren.

“The bongkong is more sweet and fresh. And the brain is very creamy. The lobster, when it’s prepared live and is nice tasting, has a more salty and mineral taste.”

The best bongkong, Meng said, are fished from the wild, as the farm-raised kind do not have the same muscles.

“The wild one is always better tasting . . . it is more natural. It works harder to get food. Sometimes farms don’t have the correct feeding methods.”

At the Intercontinental Hotel, the prawn is served poached with a potato cake and caramelised lemon, while at Topaz it is grilled with cheese.

“It is one of our most popular dishes,” said Marcus Gonzagas, manager of the hotel’s Regency Café.

 For fishermen, the Cambodian bongkong trade is lucrative. They caught more than 50 tonnes last year. The amount of bongkong in the wild, which is starting to increase after dwindling for the past decade, reflects its increased popularity.

“There is some illegal fishing, using traps,” said General Director of the Fisheries Administration Nao Thuok, who added that the ever increasing price of bongkong tempts poor villagers to break the law.

 But with costs as high as $48 a kilo, some restaurant owners do not believe it justifies the expense.

 “It’s very nice, but we do not use it because it is so expensive,” said Van’s Restaurant chef Nicolas Malherbe.

 The prawn’s allure stretches overseas. Robert Vifian, chef at Vietnamese Tan Dinh restaurant in Paris, said he fondly remembers the giant prawn from his youth in Vietnam, and continues to use them occasionally for both the meat and roe.

 “It is sweet, firm, fleshy, and aromatically between sea and [other] river prawns,” said Vifian, who uses frozen prawns imported from Vietnam. Called saphira in France due to their dark blue legs, Vifian said he doesn’t serve them often because customers would rather pay the same price for actual lobsters.

Growing up in southern Vietnam, Vifian said, the prawns were an expensive treat that were a rare source of indulgence. Now, they’re gracing the plates of gourmands around the region.

Tibet landslide buries 83 miners

A landslide has engulfed a gold mining area in Tibet, burying 83 workers believed to have been asleep, according to Chinese state media.

About 2m cubic metres of mud, rock and debris swept through the area on Saturday as the workers were resting, covering about 4km (1.5 miles), China Central Television said.

The official Xinhua news agency said the workers in Lhasa’s Maizhokunggar county worked for a subsidiary of China National Gold, a state-owned enterprise and the country’s largest gold producer.

The disaster is likely to inflame critics of Chinese rule in Tibet who say Beijing’s interests are driven by the region’s mineral wealth and strategic position and come at the expense of the delicate ecosystem and Tibetans’ Buddhist culture and traditional way of life.

The reports said at least two of the buried workers were Tibetan, while most of the workers were believed to be ethnic Han Chinese, a reflection of how such large projects often create an influx of the majority ethnic group into the region.

More than 1,000 police, firefighters, soldiers and medics have been deployed to the site. They conducted searches armed with devices to detect signs of life and were accompanied by sniffer dogs, reports said. About 30 excavators were also digging at the scene last night as temperatures plunged below freezing.

Easter lilies can be fatal for your cat

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons

By Holly Henry, WTKR/WGNT Online Producer

Easter lilies are a serious health threat to your cat, according to a report from the Pet Health Network.

All parts of this popular holiday flower are toxic to cats. Just one bite of a petal, leaves, the stem, or even the pollen of an Easter lily, can damage your cat’s digestive system and even cause death.

Pet Health Network says that if your cat consumes this flower, then he/she may exhibit the following symptoms:

Vomiting, lack of appetite, and lethargy.

Seek emergency vet care if your kitty consumes the lovely but dangerous plant!

Read more from Pet Health Network, HERE.

Life & Style Weekly: Julianne Hough OK after split with Ryan Seacrest

Utah-born Julianne Hough broke up with Ryan Seacrest over the weekend, but tabloid Life Style Weekly is reporting that she is OK in its latest issue:

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A breakup can be tough on any girl, but Julianne Hough is pulling through!

Days after it was revealed she split with her beau of nearly three years, Ryan Seacrest, Julianne’s brother, Derek Hough, tells Life Style that the actress/dancer couldn’t be doing any better.

“She’s doing good,” he told Life Style after his first performance with Kellie Pickler on the season 16 premiere of Dancing With the Stars on Monday night.

According to reports, Julianne, 24, and Ryan, 38, took the axe to their relationship because of their tough schedules.

But the Safe Haven starlet hasn’t locked herself indoors, curled up with a pint of Häagen-Dazs — she’s making most of her new single life.

The blond beauty has been seen out and about hanging out with girlfriends, and was even spotted spending some time with Derek and former DWTS pal Maksim Chmerkovskiy outside Beacher’s Madhouse at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood over the weekend.

“We work hard, and it’s why we’re attracted to each other,” Julianne said recently about her relationship with Ryan. “We both are attracted to drive, ambition and success — depending on what you think success is.”

And the American Idol host echoed the same sentiments. “We’re really happy and we’re really proud of each other.”

But unfortunately, the couple — who began dating in spring 2010 — just couldn’t make it work.

For more inside Ryan and Julianne’s split, pick up the new issue of Life Style, on stands tomorrow.


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Bomb near Acropolis shakes central Athens

John Kolesidis / Reuters

Police officers search for evidence near the home of a prominent Greek ship owner after a makeshift bomb exploded in central Athens on Wednesday.

Police in Athens cleared people from an area close to the Acropolis on Wednesday, before a bomb apparently targeting the nearby home of a Greek ship owner exploded, reports said.

There were no reported injuries from the blast at the entryway of a home owned by the Tsakos family, which operates one of the country’s large shipping companies, nor was there any reported damage to the historical site.

A police source said an anonymous caller alerted a Greek daily newspaper that a bomb outside the Tsakos home would go off at 8:30 p.m. local time (5:30 p.m. ET), AFP reported.

The bomb was in a black backpack left at the home’s entrance, located just a few hundred yards from the south side of the Acropolis, one of Greece’s most popular tourist destinations.

By the time the blast occurred — around the time predicted by the caller — police had evacuated one or two people from the building and sealed off the area, according to The Associated Press, citing police spokesman Panagiotis Papapetropoulos.

“Judging by the minor extent of the damage, it can’t have been a very strong explosive device,” Papapetropoulos said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing.

In the past three years, amid a deep financial crisis and painful austerity measures, Greek anarchist groups have carried out a string of attacks against police and symbols of institutional authority and wealth in the country.

Questions About Pet Health Care

Decisions about end-of-life care for pets are heart-wrenching for their owners. That’s even more so now than 10 or 20 years ago because new technology and advances in medical treatments have made their way down to pet care, meaning there are more ways to save or extend your pet’s life. But it also means more expense, if you choose to do so.

Here are some questions to consider.

As a pet owner, am I a bad person if I don’t have the money to do whatever it takes to save or extend my pet’s life?

No, of course not. As long as you’ve given your pet the best life you could, that’s all they ask of you. It certainly is your responsibility as a pet owner to make sure you can provide and pay for basic veterinary care to your animal, along with food, toys, and lots of love. But not everyone can foot the bill for, say, a kidney transplant for their cat, or an amputation for their dog. Could you put it on a credit card? Would that hurt you financially? If you do pay for a high-cost surgery, will you be able to stay with and care for your pet while it recovers at home? You have to make those decisions, in consultation with your vet. But don’t be shy about asking your veterinarian about all the options available to you. You may want to set up a separate savings account, like a pet emergency fund, to prepare for inevitable medical costs for your pet(s).

What if I feel guilty about not going into deep debt to help my pet?

Again, this is a very personal decision that you have to make, and it’s where a pet emergency fund can help make those decisions just a little bit easier. But if you love your pet, and have given it a wonderful life, you have to trust yourself to make the right decision. As we noted in the story, you also need to consider what kind of life your pet would have even if you pay to extend it through extraordinary measures. You also need to factor in what kinds of spending and saving decisions you will have to make if you do go into debt to save your pet. There is no one right answer for anyone. At a certain point, your heart will guide you just as much as your wallet will.

Is there any way to keep veterinary costs down without sacrificing care for my pet?

Yes. The best way, just as with humans, is to keep current with annual checkups, and go to the veterinarian as soon as you think there may be something wrong. It’s always more expensive to treat an illness is advanced stages than it is to keep something from becoming a full-blown crisis.

You should also shop around for veterinary care. Call a few and ask what they charge for a basic exam (that is, to walk in the door). Ask friends who have pets what they pay for checkups and emergency care. Based on an admittedly unscientific survey (my friends), the average cost of an annual checkup in my area of Los Angeles is $50. It may be different where you live, but talking with other pet owners will give you a sense of what to expect. The ASPCA has a good breakdown of pet ownership costs, including medical.

One big medical cost for pets that humans can also relate to is prescription medicine. You can often save money, and avoid a significant markup at the veterinarian’s office, by ordering the medicine online. Or go to a store like Walgreens or Target to have the prescription filled. Target even has a special program called PetRx that includes $4 generics.

Emergency care is another story, though. When your pet is in critical condition, you won’t be in a position to shop around. So look up the pet hospitals nearest you and do some research on your own before something happens to your pet. And never be afraid to ask about cost before your pet is taken away for surgery or any other procedure. For most of us, cost has to be a factor in our decision-making around pet care, and veterinary care providers know that.

How do I decide whether pet insurance is worth it for my animals?

Pet insurance has had a bad rap for years. In its August 2011 issue, Consumer Reports compared three major pet policy providers and found that “only in uncommon cases, when a pet required very expensive care, would the coverage have more than paid for itself.” And those three providers represent 90 percent of the pet insurance market.

That’s because many policies have long lists of exclusions — illnesses the insurers won’t pay for — and most, if not all, do not cover pre-existing conditions or annual checkups. Pet insurance also operates on a reimbursement model, where you pay upfront and then are paid back after filing a claim.

As noted by Consumer Reports, there are exceptions, mostly when you face extreme situations like a kidney transplant or an amputation. In these cases, having pet insurance may make those decisions a little easier since some of the costs will be defrayed. But be sure you read the fine print if you decide to get a policy, because there are limits on how much the insurance company will pay. And you can guarantee the price of your policy will go up each time a pet needs critical care.

Tell us about your experience in dealing with the medical needs of your pet.

Tom Cruise lawyer on ‘In Touch’ lawsuit: there won’t be a settlement

By Lucas Shaw NEW YORK ( – The Weinstein Company has acquired domestic distribution rights to “Grace of Monaco,” an upcoming biopic starring Nicole Kidman as Hollywood star-turned-princess Grace Kelly, the independent distributor announced on Monday. Weinstein will release the film December 27 in limited markets, just in time for it to qualify for the 2014 Academy Awards. Arash Amel wrote the script for the film, which focuses on Kelly’s marriage to Prince Rainier III of Monaco (played by Tim Roth) and a dispute between the prince and French leader Charles De Gaulle. …