I’m a frequent traveller to Asia and in the process bear first hand witness to its poverty and deprivation.  When I return, I vow to make a small cut in my relatively luxurious Sydney lifestyle and donate to charities that help the impoverished in Asia.  I even post about the wonderful people I meet and my longing to help them, beautiful souls like Thong.

But once I get back to Sydney, first world troubles overtake and I quickly forget about my new friends in need.

That’s why I’m so in awe of committed people like Jimmy Pham.  We are similar in so many ways, both from a Vietnamese background, around the same age, we even live in the same suburb in Sydney.  One area of difference is in his committment to helping the street kids of Vietnam.  I can’t do his story justice, so will rely on a quote from Jimmy:

koto jimmy pham

Ten years ago, I made a promise to a small group of street kids [in Vietnam]. I gave them my word that I would find them a future beyond handouts: a future where in due time, they would be able to support themselves. Hospitality training seemed to be a good idea… Tourism in Vietnam was booming, and hotels and restaurants needed waiters and chefs.  This was the beginning of the KOTO restaurant and training centre.. I often felt overwhelmed.

Luckily, in one of those overwhelming moments, a woman appeared in the rubble of the building site that was to become the first KOTO training restaurant.  She simply said ‘I want to help’.  Koto: a culinary journey through Vietnam.

Jimmy really did make a difference, KOTO trains street children so they could have the skills to be self-sufficient.  Today KOTO finds employment for over 50 trainees each year, kids who’s only previous option was living on the streets.  He inspires.  Here’s a story of someone who has been helped by KOTO:koto Trainee-Tran-Van-Kha

Phung was only fourteen years old when he left school and his small home town to travel to Hanoi.  is father had fallen ill and was unable to work anymore.  As the eldest son, it was Phung’s responsibility to earn a living and to support the family.  In Hanoi, he started to work as a shoe-shine boy, competing with scores of other youngsters in the same situation.  For two years, he lived on the streets, sleeping outdoors or in dingy hostels, and spending his days hassling for business.  And there was always the danger of being picked up by the police and sent to a detention centre.  But unlike many of his peers, Phung got this lucky break.  He was able to join KOTO…

The project provided uniforms and new shoes, a place in a share house with other students, and a trainee wage that was generous enough to continue supporting his family.  Eighteen months later, Phung graduated top of his class. Koto: a culinary journey through Vietnam.

Jimmy’s friends, Tracey Lister and Andreas Pohl and phototgrapher, Michael Fountoulakis, brings the KOTO story to life through KOTO: a culinary journey through Vietnam.  The book tells the story of Jimmy, his students and contains recipes from all regions of Vietnam, from north down to south including Hanoi, Dalat, Ho Chi Minh City, the Mekong Delta.  There are mouth watering recipes and photos of traditional Vietnamese dishes:

  • Pho (of course)
  • Banh beo
  • Bo la lot: beef in betel leaf
  • Cua rang me: tamarind crab
  • Goi bo: lime-marinated beef salad
  • Bun rieu: crab noodle soup

If you’re like me and want to help, Jimmy and KOTO, there are several ways:

koto cover

Proceeds go to KOTO and helps keep the school going… what more can I say?

Disclosure: KOTO: a culinary journey through Vietnam is a SBS publication and printed by Hardie Grant.  I am an employee of SBS.