Vietnamese noodle vendor arrested by police over video and social media posts

Bui Tuan Lam has been charged with creating and disseminating materials against the communist state.
By RFA Vietnamese
2022.09.07
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Noodle vendor and former activist Bui Tuan Lam seasons a dish in the theatrical style of Turkish celebrity chef Salt Bae.
Video courtesy of Bui Tuan Lam

A former activist who runs a beef noodle stall and is known for imitating a famous Turkish chef who served an expensive cut of meat to a Vietnamese government official was arrested and indicted Wednesday in Danang on a charge of creating and disseminating materials against the one-party communist state.

Bui Tuan Lam, also known as “Onion Leaf Bae,” was charged for violating Article 117 of the country’s Penal Code, which prohibits “creating, storing, and disseminating materials and items against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” state media reported.

Police who investigated Bui said he regularly used social networks to post stories, videos and livestreams with contents “distorting the guidelines and policies of the party and state and promoting activities against the party and state of Vietnam.”

Some of the posted content insulted Vietnamese leaders and the prestige and honor of organizations and individuals, police said.

Officers delivered a summons to Bui at his home on the morning of Nov. 16, 2021, five days after he posted a video on his Facebook account in which he imitated Turkish celebrity chef and restaurateur Nusret Gökçe, a social media star better known as "Salt Bae."

Salt Bae was recorded on camera in November 2021 hand-feeding a pricey chunk of gold-coated steak at his London restaurant to Vietnam’s minister of public security, To Lam, and his entourage when they stopped there after a United Nations climate change conference in Scotland.

The video was removed from Salt Bae’s TikTok account about 30 minutes after a Vietnamese activist shared it on his Facebook page, though an RFA report on the video caught the attention of followers who wondered how a high-ranking government official could afford a steak that cost 1,450 pounds ($1,975) on a monthly salary of roughly U.S $660.  

In his video clip, Bui refers to himself as “Onion Leaf Bae” and dramatically sprinkles spring onions into a bowl of soup at his noodle stand, mimicking the signature move of the celebrity chef, who writhed ostentatiously as he sprinkled salt on To’s steak.

The order delivered by police did not provide an explanation for the summons, only stating that Bui was to “provide information about a criminal dealing for investigation work,” Bui told RFA at the time. 

A video recording of the visit by Danang police shows two officers refusing to answer Bui when he asked for the reason for the summons. When Bui initially resisted going with the officers, they threatened to forcefully escort him to their office, he said at the time.

Bui, who was born in 1984 and lives in Danang’s Hai Chau district, is known for his human rights activism and charity work. 

Turkish chef Gökçe, 39, owns Nusr-Et, a chain of luxury steakhouses around the world, and videos of his meat-salting performances have been seen and shared by millions of people. When his London eatery opened in September 2021, it was slammed for its U.S. $34 desserts and U.S. $135 hamburgers in the British press, which ran features on exorbitant Salt Bae dinner tabs.

Translated by Anna Vu for RFA Vietnam. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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