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A village full of self-trained cooks in central Vietnam

A village full of self-trained cooks in central Vietnam

Monday, September 15, 2014, 17:39 GMT+7

Is it correct to say that those who are good at farming are good at cooking? Villagers from Dong Hoa, in the central province of Quang Nam, say yes to this question.

They are not only good at cooking, but they also work as self-taught cooks.

The small village in Dien Tho Commune, Dien Ban District, now has 60 households offering cooking services, as well as hundreds of others working in the cuisine industry.

More specially, they have not opened restaurants or large hotels. Instead, they work as “freelance” cooks who are hired to prepare dishes for parties with hundreds of visitors at their clients’ homes.

Hosting large parties at home is common in Vietnam, especially in rural regions, where every house has a large garden or space big enough to receive hundreds of neighbors and relatives.

Therefore, the ‘working space’ of the Dong Hoa cooks covers any family in Quang Nam Province, Da Nang City, or other neighboring areas of the central region.

Visiting the village of cooks

Since they live in a farming area, villagers from Dong Hoa naturally start their lives by farming. Many villagers learnt about recipes during their free time to produce tasty dishes for their families first.

They became cooks when they were asked for help preparing food at local families’ parties.

Once they realized their abilities, they began offering to cook for pay, before going on to cook at parties as hired cooks.

In Dong Hoa Village, the nicest houses are owned by these cooks-for-hire.

A local woman pointed toward a field and said, “The cooks are working there on the rice field. These beautiful houses are theirs.”

One of the most beautiful houses in the village is owned by Mai Thi Tam, considered the first woman to begin cooking for pay in Dong Hoa.

Born to a family with a long history of farming, Tam still cultivates 8,000 square meters of rice and works as a cook at the same time. She started her cooking job around 20 years ago.

“At the time, neighbors knew that I could cook tasty meals, and often asked for my help preparing their families’ parties of 10-15 tables each.

“My reputation as a cook grew after each of those parties.

“At first I just helped them, not for money at all,” Tam said about her self-taught job.

She began thinking of learning to cook more dishes. She said she sold her gold ring for VND500,000 (US$24) to buy a cook book in Ho Chi Minh City.

“I tested new dishes for my family first before making them for guests,” Tam said.

Tam added that she then cooked for a party of 500 guests in Son Tra District, of Da Nang City, also in the central region.

Pointing at her house, Tam said, “I built this house for VND300 million [$14,400], mainly from the income of my cooking job.”

Learning to cook online

Many other women in the village followed Tam to learn more about cooking.

Now, Dong Hoa Village has a total of 60 households offering cuisine services.

The success has ‘expanded’ to other villages in Dien Tho Commune, which now has around 150 households working in cooking business and providing 500 jobs.

To prepare a new dish as required by clients, the cooks go online to study necessary materials and recipes. Surfing the Internet is rare for most farmers in Vietnam.

These ‘cooking families’ even use trucks to transport their food and cooking utensils, instead of carrying them on motorbikes as before.

A cook in Dong Hoa shared that she prepares meals for over 10,000 diners a year.

Tuoi Tre

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