A year ago this month, my Mom and I took a trip of a lifetime together to Vietnam and Cambodia.
Before the trip, my daughter selected the book Noodle Pie by Ruth Starke for our mother-daughter book club, it takes place in Hanoi. I read it before leaving to be sure I could bring back relevant details and photos for the girls. KOTO is highlighted in the book and it was on my list of places to get to.
In one of those law-of-attraction moments, on our first night in Hanoi, only hours after landing, our guide gave us a run down of the next day. Quang told us the itinerary has “lunch on our own” scheduled but he hoped we didn’t mind that he had made a reservation for us to eat together at a place called KOTO. My jaw dropped, I gasped and I flung my head to look at my Mom who understood my excitement.
KOTO stands for Know One Teach One. It was founded by Jimmy Pham in 2000 to train Vietnamese street kids in English, hospitality and life skills giving them valuable experience to find jobs and improve their lives. The two-year program is free for the trainees to attend. A quote from Jimmy Pham on the KOTO menu reads: “I knew the youths needed skills and jobs to earn a living to have a better life and from this KOTO was born.”
On our visit, my Mom ordered Nem-lui which our waitress showed her how to wrap. The menu described it as “minced pork grilled on lemon grass served with rice paper, local herbs and a sweet and sour dipping sauce.” I ordered Bun Bo Nam Bo (“wok fried beef on rice noodles with fresh mixed herbs, peanuts, lime, chili and garlic”) and we both enjoyed the traditional Vietnamese meals with our first local beer of our 20 day adventure.
As a mother, learning about the street kids while in Vietnam and in the heartwarming, entrepreneurial story of Noodle Pie, I was moved and impressed by KOTO.