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Small wonders: Vietnamese artist making tiny food

Squinting in concentration, Vietnamese artist Nguyen Thi Ha An drops a bright red chili onto a bowl of pho noodles barely bigger than a coin — the finishing touch to a miniature clay model that has eaten up days of her time.

An — a 28-year-old architecture graduate — began crafting food miniatures a year ago, spotting a chance to capitalize on the world’s growing love of Vietnamese cuisine.

Vietnam food art
Miniature artist Nguyen Thi Ha An working at her studio in Hanoi. Image: AFP/Manan Vatsyayana

“Each Vietnamese dish has its specific beauty,” she says, using tweezers to softly lay a scallion beside a “banh mi” sandwich.

“I want the models to help people see that.”

Less globally well-known dishes such as sweet rice dessert “che com” are also on the menu at An’s Hanoi studio.

But the classics get plenty of attention, with An modeling tiny bottles of chili sauce and pickled garlic to accompany her bowls of pho.

“Each model comes with its own difficulty,” she tells Agence France-Presse.

“The bowls have to be very clean and neat, while we must show the lines on a scallion to convey its texture.”

An’s assistant, 21-year-old Nguyen Ngan Ha, agrees their work must be “meticulous at every stage.”

“People must be able to believe this is real food,” she says.

Ninety percent clay and 10% liquid plastic, the models can take up to five days each to make, and An sells them for up to $80 (around P3,800).

She also plans to expand the business to beverages — including Vietnamese coffee and beer — as they are served at a traditional open-air “bia hoi” bar.

And although she has given up a potentially more stable career in architecture to pursue this niche craft, she believes she made the right choice.

“I really want to make my work the best that it can be,” she says.

“And I want to help more people see the beauty of Vietnamese culture.” CL

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