Dining with Purpose ~ KOTO: “Know One, Teach One”

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”   ~ Mother Teresa

Dining with Purpose

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.

Dining with Purpose

Dining with Purpose

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

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


About travelerlynne

Traveler. Writer. Retired Educator.Traveling on and off the beaten path with my photographer husband. Volunteering locally as well as in Haiti and Tanzania, an enriching and humbling experience. A sun lover! Shelling, boating, fishing and watching sunsets. Growing mango, banana, key lime,and pineapple.Making smoothies and chutneys. Enjoying family and friends! Savoring each new day!
This entry was posted in Musings, Recipes ~ Food, Travel, Vietnam and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

43 Responses to Dining with Purpose ~ KOTO: “Know One, Teach One”

  1. Gigi Galore says:

    Lovely! Jamie Oliver does a very similar thing here. He started the restaurant chain Fifteen with a very similar mission. He is hugely successful and a very lovely (busy) with a heart of gold that enables him to do so much for others at the same time as being rich and famous!!! I can’t think of another way to out it … 🙂 Lovely post Lynne!

  2. There must be numerous establishments around the world doing similar training.Thanks for sharing and commenting.:)

  3. letizia says:

    I love the idea behind these two restaurants. And the food looks so delicious, especially the purple yam soup!

    (I’m also going to find out more about the Temple of Literature, I’m intrigued).

  4. Thanks Letzia for commenting on the restaurant’s purpose and the delicious food. I really need to do a blog on the Temple of Literature, but in the meantime check out the two photos my husband took of the inside.
    We really enjoyed our time at this temple but regret we didn’t have a guide to offer explanations. All I have are guide books which are helpful, but not the same.

  5. vbholmes says:

    It’s heartwarming to read about people returning to their homelands and staying to help their own–

    • I agree. And the ripple affect from such an enterprise is as important. Who knows how many graduates of this training facility are opening businesses with the same philosophy.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  6. Lisaman says:

    What a great idea…worth it when you can get funding to realise a project that big…What makes that yam soup purple!!! wierd colour!!

    • Thank you Lisa for your comment on the success of the restaurant projects. As for the yam, it is a tuberous root vegetable and when cut into the flesh is naturally purple, like pumpkins are naturally orange inside.They are grown in S America, Africa and Asia.

  7. restlessjo says:

    Loved Ron’s photos of the Temple of Literature, Lynne. You’re a great team. That soup certainly looks interesting.

  8. What an inspiring story. The food must have been extra delicious,knowing it was cooked with such love!

  9. noelleisme says:

    Koto is my favorite restaurant, it takes me only 20 mins walk from my house!…The story was surprising me a lot, hopefully you will have a good taste 🙂

  10. llktraveling says:

    Reblogged this on LLK Traveling and commented:
    We used to live near this place, enjoy your time with Koto restaurant!
    The LLK

  11. Dianne says:

    Can’t wait to try this soup!

  12. The purple yam soup looks so beautiful! This story is really inspiring too, and it’s great to know that by choosing to eat in such a place, a tourist can help make a difference.

  13. This sounds delicious! With a lovely story to it, too! Wish I knew where to find yams of ANY clour in Johannesburg! I’ll have to try an alternative. Just a thought on colours of food: How the brain is trained to reject what it perceives to be ‘wrong’ . I saw results of a test once, that had coloured delicious savoury food blue, and no-one would eat it! MY western mind says that purple soup should be sweet!

    • Thanks Elaine for your thoughtful comment. You are so right about the color…it can be a turn off because our brain tells us it is not normal. But for many, any food that is foreign or does not fit into one’s comfort zone is not worth a try.

  14. I shall have to substitute the yams with sweet potatoes I guess!

  15. Pam says:

    This restaurant is very inspiring!

  16. Madhu says:

    Book marking this for a future visit Lynne. What an inspiring story! And that purple yam soup looks wonderful 🙂

  17. Thanks for your kind words. I’m also starting to bookmark places to visit, etc. thanks to blogging and all the information we make available to each other. Purple yam soup is pretty garish looking,,,but was really tasty. 🙂

  18. The food looks lovely, what an inspiring idea! Reminds me of that song…’from little things, big things grow’. Also intrigued by the Temple of Literature. Sounds much more profound than, say, ‘Library’. 🙂

  19. Thanks Arlana Rose for your comments regarding the restaurant’s purpose and the delicious food. I really need to do a blog on the Temple of Literature, but in the meantime check out the two photos my husband took of the inside.
    We really enjoyed our time at this temple but regret we didn’t have a guide to offer explanations. All I have are guide books which are helpful, but not the same.

  20. Pingback: Temple of Literature ~ Hanoi | On the Go with Lynne

  21. Lynne, this sounds fantastic! The concept reminds me of the Friends restaurants in Laos and Cambodia. I wish I had known about this when I was in Hanoi in 2009!

  22. Now, I wish I knew of the Friends restaurants. I will have to check that out. 🙂

  23. Lovely piece, Lynne. I had heard of Know One Teach one, but you made it real and personal.
    If the soup is half as delicious as it is colorfully beautiful, it will be wonderful!

  24. eof737 says:

    Such heartwarming dishes… love the purple yam soup. 😉

  25. Great teaching restaurants and yes, great food. thanks for your visit and your comment.:)

  26. Wow, this is really great to train young people to work in food service. Skills are the best things one can give to the poor and disadvantaged; better than money which will vanish and amount to nothing in the end. Excellent!

  27. I’m sure these young people would agree. It makes for a more secure future.

  28. Jeanette says:

    What a wonderful initiative! I hope to have the KOTO experience myself one of these days. We need something like that in Côte d’Ivoire!!!

  29. I would think this concept would be successful in Côte d’Ivoire. Jobs and training and dignity are certainly worth the investment. Thanks for your visit and comment, Jeanette.

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