Anyone who knows me will know that my culinary talents won’t be winning me any awards. I could at best be described as “inventive” or “resourceful” in some euphemistic sense, especially since moving to Vietnam where it’s simpler, quicker and cheaper to gorge on the bountiful street-food options. Many a foreigner who calls this city home has lamented having lost cooking as a hobby, I am not one of these people, but for those who miss the tasty touch of a home-cooked meal, cooking is cheaper than a plane ticket – for others, it’s a passion.
Far from just cooking for themselves, there are some heroes – devoid of capes or questionable spandex – who have started to bring flavours of their home countries to the online marketplace of Hanoi. Selling things over the internet isn’t exactly revolutionary, but it’s becoming more common. I tracked down some of these fine folks to find out how this happened and what motivates them to cook for the digital masses.
Pum Thaminrach & Her Home-Cooked Thai Food
Serving up an authentic taste of Thailand is Pum Thaminrach, who having grown up in Sa Kaeow Province, eastern Thailand, has lived in Hanoi for four years as “a trailing spouse”. Oddly, there aren’t a huge number of Thai restaurants across the city, but Thaminrach’s success stems from authenticity.
“Lots of people aren’t satisfied with the food they can get in restaurants because it doesn’t taste the same as back home – I feel I can make more authentic food than what’s served in the restaurants.”
Originally Thaminrach was catering to friends, whipping up popular Thai dishes such as red curry, green curry or mango with sticky rice, but she has been known to expand her menu for parties. “I’ve just started selling my food online after several years of catering by word of mouth, so far people have been very happy with the food that they’ve ordered,” she went on to explain.
“When I cooked for my close friends, whether Thai, Vietnamese or Westerners, they’ve really enjoyed the food and it makes me happy – just as if it were my own family.”
Clearly Thaminrach’s passion for good food is one factor involved in the home-cooking business, but I wanted to find out – why not simply open a restaurant?
“I owned a restaurant in Thailand and I love to cook and to eat, but I would definitely not start a restaurant here! I’ve owned one before and I know how much work it is – I prefer having the time for my friends and family.”
Evans Osinga Brings a Taste of African Cuisine to Hanoi
Meanwhile, for Evans Osinga who has lived in Hanoi with his family for just shy of two years, has been cooking up a storm with African Cuisine – his home-cooked delivery service. Hailing from Nigeria, he brings a fierce passion for cooking to the table.
“Sometimes I receive an order, say they order three plates, but while you’re preparing the three plates, they say sorry can I add this or that on. So that is how it goes, it’s a bit hectic, but it’s something I love doing. I love to cook, so cooking a big portion is not a stressful job to me, it’s something I can do easily.”
Osinga is keen to “go deep into African cuisine” not just his native West African dishes, but covering the whole continent. Osinga has recently found himself thrust into a frantic food frenzy since he opened up his delivery page on Facebook. “My wife has always been a great encouragement to me saying ‘C’mon, why are you wasting your talents?’ So we started with just home delivery at first.”
Mike Till’s Beefy Biltong
A resident of Hanoi for over seven years, Mike Till didn’t return to South Africa once for his first three years here and the lack of decent home comfort-foods such as biltong and droewors began to grate on him. “What’s produced locally was not what I was wanting, so I went ahead to try to start making my own,” but things weren’t quite so simple Till added. “It started off as a hobby, but what I did try went all wrong and improvement was needed.”
After importing the materials he needed to do the job properly, Till went on to share the spoils of his labour with friends who quickly made enquiries about buying more from him. “I then went into it more seriously to provide and to supply to customers who heard of me through word of mouth,” Till’s dedication to his craft paid off and the reputation of Mike’s Beefy Biltong spread rapidly. “Eventually I had reached a point where customers were saying it’s just like what they got at home or even better.”
It’s a dream that Till seems intent to follow to its logical conclusion. “A restaurant or a stall will be more effective in the future when I can make more time available, but presently the overheads will not make it possible. Due to more expats moving into Hanoi, the market is growing and there is a need for these sorts of products.”
Shahar Lubin – Foodies in Hanoi
Facebook is the primary tool for connecting these budding cooks to their hungry customers. Shahar Lubin, Foodies in Hanoi page admin with nine years of experience within the Vietnamese food and drinks scene had this to say on the growing trend of expats selling their home-cooked food.
“With a constant arrival of new short-term expats, there’s a constant stream of people looking for a hobby – with the added drive to bring their culture for their compatriots, locals, and other expats. Many gaps still exist in the local food scene, gaps that home-cooked meals can fill.
“While this phenomenon is far from new, the emergence of Facebook and groups like ‘Foodies in Hanoi’ on Facebook, have made it much easier to promote and advertise such endeavours.
© HOT TABLE – All Photography by Mi Nguyen & Nathan McClatchey.