“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” ~ Mother Teresa
While in Hanoi, one of our dining experiences was eating lunch at KOTO .
KOTO stands for “Know One, Teach One.”
We chose this restaurant months before we arrived in Vietnam. Why?
Lonely Planet recommended it and everything we read was convincing us to eat there.
We believe as travelers we should support educational and cultural programs…to give back however and whenever we can.
KOTO is unique because of how it got started and its purpose.
Jimmy Pham, of Korean/Vietnamese origin who lived in Australia, returned to Vietnam in the mid 90’s and was disturbed by the number of street kids he encountered. No hygiene. No job. No hope. The kids told him they needed jobs. With his family’s support, he opened a small sandwich shop and employed a few kids. He thought everyone knew how to make a sandwich and mix a fruit drink. Wrong. They needed training and basic skills.
The sandwich shop is long gone and replaced with KOTO restaurant/training facility which opened in Hanoi in 2000, and also in Ho Chi Minh City in 2011. It is a non-profit enterprise that allows young people who are disadvantaged to undergo an intensive two year training program in all areas of food service. Each facility accepts 100 young people and provides living facilities, education, English lessons, sex-education information and numerous life skills to be successful and employable.
“Our aim is to spread our teachings and philosophies to many corners of the globe where youth are the victims of neglect, abandonment and abuse in the hope of giving them an opportunity for a brighter future.”
After touring The Temple of Literature we headed to KOTO which is conveniently across the street. The only table left was on the roof top. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves as we watched these young people in action. Very well organized as each trainee is paired with a mentor. Delicious food was served with sincere smiles. We had fun encouraging the staff to practice their English with us. The menu is a blend of Vietnamese, Western, and French and the restaurant has become a destination in itself.
While in Ho Chi Minh City we had lunch at Huong Lai, a restaurant started by a Japanese expatriot in 2001. His mission is similar to KOTO in that he wants to help disadvantaged youth with proper training and education. Not easy to find, this restaurant is located up a flight of stairs and has limited seating. It is a charming space with the old brick walls exposed, a contrast to the white tablecloths. Definitely has a French Colonial feel to it; however, the food is traditional Vietnamese cuisine. Again, we weren’t disappointed in our meal or the staff. Mr. Jin Shirai, the owner introduced himself to us and thanked us graciously for choosing Huang Lai to dine.
The purple yam soup was delicious.
Purple Yam Soup with Shrimp and Chicken
After searching recipes for purple yam soup or “canh khoai mo”, I came across a western version. This one substitutes green onions for sawtooth herb leaves and bunches of rice paddy leaves. It’s considered to be a hearty soup and in Vietnam is served to rich and poor alike. The main ingredient in this soup is purple yam, but you can add fresh shrimp, pork, or chicken to make it fancier and flavorful or just use dried shrimp and water because that is the least expensive way to create this soup. I love this soup, and it is very easy to prepare.
1 lb. fresh purple yams or 450 gr grated frozen, found in Asian grocery stores.
If using fresh yams, peel first, then scrape yam flesh with a spoon to make it chunky.
2 chicken breasts minced
1/4 cup dried shrimp
2 tbsp canola oil
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 shallots minced
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 white part of green onion
1 tsp sugar
4 cups chicken broth
3 cups of water
2 tbsp fish sauce (nuac mam)
Garnish with green onions, or chives
In a 6 quart pot over medium heat, add olive oil, shallots, garlic and the white part of green onion. Sauté’ for about 5 minutes or until fragrant. Add chicken and dried shrimp. Stir and cook for another 7 to 10 minutes. Season with salt and ground black pepper. Add chicken broth, fish sauce and water, and bring to a boil. Add the purple yam and use a wooden spoon to break the yam, so it will not stick together. Simmer until the yam and meat are cooked and well flavored.
Ladle into the soup bowl, top with garnishes, and serve