One of the best ways to experience a new city is through your stomach and what better way to do this than by learning how to cook local dishes for yourself. There are lots of cooking classes in Hanoi, but there is one that stands apart from the rest. I recently took a cooking class at KOTO, which is a social enterprise that helps change the lives of street kids and disadvantaged youth.
What is KOTO?
KOTO stands for ‘Know one, teach one’ with the philosophy that learning is meant to be shared and should be passed on to others. Founder, Jimmy Pham opened the hospitality training centre 10 years ago, and since then they have trained over 600 students in their Hanoi and Saigon training centres. The students gain real-life experience in their two training restaurants, online bakery, cooking classes and catering service – all of which also provide the students with a source of income and welfare.
Naturally, I was keen to experience this for myself. I treated myself to an incredible lunch in the KOTO restaurant in Hanoi – the food is cooked by the students, the drinks prepared by trainee bartenders, and all served by student wait staff. I was so impressed that I immediately booked in for a private cooking class the following day.
What are the cooking classes like? Are they hard?
Vietnamese food has to be one of my favourite cuisines so there is nothing I like more than munching on some rice paper rolls and slurping down some pho. While I have prepared fresh rice paper rolls before, they are normally just inventions from my head rather than the real deal. So could I hack it in the kitchen?
Yes! Everyone can when you have a patient and helpful teacher to guide you through the process. My teacher for the day dreams of one day finding a job as a chef in the United States. Her English was impeccable and she was so friendly that it was great to chat with her about her life, KOTO and Vietnam as we wandered through the market buying the fresh produce needed for the class.
What can I learn to cook?
There are a few different menu choices so you can pick whichever one tickles your taste buds and meets your dietary requirements. I love street food so picking the Traditional Hanoi street food class was an easy decision – banana flower salad (Nom hoa chuoi), Hanoi style fried pork spring rolls (Nem ran), Beef rice paper rolls with fresh herbs (Pho cuon), BBQ pork cooked two ways (Bun cha) and a traditional dessert soup (che).
My lesson was a full morning, starting with a trip to the local market before we started cooking. Most of the ingredients are pre-chopped for you which means that you don’t have to waste time chopping and peeling. Instead, you focus on the cooking! The class was easy to follow and I was given a recipe book so I could add my own notes as we went along.
It is fun and not too challenging so it is suitable for everyone from experts chefs to complete novices.
I want to eat…. but don’t want to cook….
You have two options – either send a friend to the cooking class and ‘accidently’ drop by around lunch time to sample the fruits of their labour.
OR, you can stick to the restaurant downstairs where you can pick for their varied menu, relax and spend the afternoon eating your way through Hanoi.
I want to do more. Can I get involved with KOTO?
In order to achieve their mission, KOTO relies on donations, sponsorship and volunteers. If you work in the hospitality industry and are interested in spending a minimum of three months in Hanoi or Saigon, you might want to consider volunteering with KOTO. This will give the opportunity to get a hands-on experience in Vietnam where you can pass on your knowledge and skills to vulnerable Vietnamese youth.
Have you taken cooking classes in Hanoi? What is the most delicious dish that you have learned to make while travelling?
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