feel-good food in vietnam

koto hanoi special guestsEnjoying a delicious local meal is one thing, but knowing that where you have chosen to dine also makes a real difference to disadvantaged youth gives you even greater satisfaction. Many Intrepid travellers know the dining delights of KOTO in Hanoi and now Ho Chi Minh City. KOTO was established in 1999 to support deserving young people and Helen Cunningham explains why it’s one of her most memorable meals whilst on holiday in Asia

“If you’re a people person, then some of the best travelling discoveries you can make come from meeting the locals at your holiday destination. For a down to earth, realistic and sometimes colourful experience, I thoroughly enjoy the knowledge, company and stories that the locals are willing to share. Having travelled through many Asian countries, I love to get away from the regular, most visited tourist spots and sample local cuisine, culture and art, and in return the locals are excited to share their lifestyle with me.

An Intrepid holiday to Hanoi in Vietnam took my daughter and myself into the most wonderful eatery called KOTO, “Know One Teach One”, where many disadvantaged local children have learnt to cook and enjoy serving the most delicious meals. A chat with one of these kids was a breath of fresh air. Understanding their culture and seeing their enthusiasm is something we will never forget!”

KOTO is a free-of-charge vocational training organisation for street and disadvantaged youth, where 16 – 22 year olds are given life skills, hospitality and English language training, enabling them to get jobs and lift themselves out of poverty. The founder, Jimmy Pham, is a former Intrepid group leader and Intrepid Travel is proud to be a long-time supporter of KOTO’s, including through The Intrepid Foundation.

Here’s a KOTO dish that’s a big hit with Intrepid travellers and is also a local favourite. Bun Cha is a classic lunchtime meal for city folk – a tasty mix of barbequed pork, fresh greens and rice noodles. Here the KOTO kitchen team have provided the recipe so you can recreate the tastes of Vietnam at home…

Bun Cha

300g minced pork
300g belly pork sliced into 1/2cm strips
20g shallot chopped
20g coriander chopped
20g spring onion diced
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp chicken powder
salt, pepper

Mix all the minced pork with half of the spices in a bowl, then mix all belly pork sliced with the other half of spices. Make into small balls and flatten a little bit. Grill until cooked.

Dipping sauce:

1 green pawpaw or daikon
1 carrot
1 cup fish sauce
3 cups water
2 tablespoons sugar
salt, pepper

Slice pawpaw and carrot into 1cm pieces. Mix all ingredients together.


200g lettuce
1 bunch coriander
1 bunch mint
1 bunch sweet basil
Handful of beansprouts
750g pre-cooked rice noodles. Serve cold.

Mix all ingredients together. Pour dipping sauce into a bowl then add the pork.
Then spread the noodles on a plate, herbs on the others. Serve with chop sticks.

To eat:
Simply dip the noodles and herbs into the dipping sauce and eat with the grilled pork. It goes perfectly with a Vietnamese beer, like Bia Hoi or 333 🙂

* photo © KOTO Hanoi – founder Jimmy Pham dining with Julia Gillard, Prime Minister of Australia.

About the author

Sue Elliot - Like many of us, Sue contracted a serious travel bug at an early age. She's visited over 90 countries in search of a cure, but her wanderlust just seems to get worse. Thankfully at Intrepid Travel she's amongst people who understand the affliction and since 1998 Sue has enjoyed being our blog and newsletter editor. Here you'll find helpful travel advice and inspiring tales from Sue and other Intrepid travellers.

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