By Jay Forte, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – As an international city that has hosted events like the World Cup and Olympics, Rio de Janeiro has a range of cuisine available at a handful of upscale restaurants; from French and Italian to Mexican and Peruvian and Japanese to Thai. However the global culinary options are certainly not as prevalent as on other continents, and one of the gaps is authentic Vietnamese food, something that expatriate Kiet To is filling.
Mr. Kiet To arrived in Rio in late 2011, and naturally started looking for signs of Vietnamese culture and cuisine. Eventually because his interest in cooking and hosting, he launched ‘Culinaria Vietnamita Oriental No Rio’ (Oriental Vietnamese Cuisine in Rio), a Facebook page aimed at Vietnamese cooking classes and dinner parties.
Kiet To explained the early days, “When I started making my native Vietnamese dishes for my friends, they were very keen to learn how to make them, so we started with small groups once a month to do cooking demonstrations, then they told their friends and so on and so on.”
When describing ‘Vietnamese food’, it usually includes rice in various forms (steamed, sticky, noodles, pancakes, porridge), lots of fish sauce, herbs (mint, cilantro, lemongrass), seafood, pork, beef, chicken, and tropical fruits (rambutan, banana, papaya, mango, etc.), with flavors borrowed from nearby countries like China, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand with a dash of the colonial French.
Kiet To shared how Culinaria Vietnamita Oriental No Rio came to be. “[Friends] asked me to make one cooking [page] online for them to connect and exchange some experiences, questions about ingredients, etc. Nowadays, we have one group called ‘Grupo gosta de fazer comida vietnamita – oriental no Rio’. They always tell me what dish that they want to learn (or sometimes I suggest one that I think they will love to cook).”
The classes are informal and as Kiet To describes, include homestyle cooking. “Most of the menus I teach have been created by my family recipes or originate from my own experiences. So, I guess you could say that my cooking demonstrations are more like ‘Home cooking Vietnamese – Oriental style’.”
He is quick to clarify that it is not a business enterprise. “This is a non-profit venture. All costs of the class are charged to the students, we learn, we cook together, then when the class is over, we eat and enjoy the afternoon together.” Adding, “It’s a hobby, and I want to share my native meals for everyone in Rio to learn, and besides, I enjoy doing it.”
The classes are semi-private, and anyone interested should get acquainted first by the Facebook page and find out more information. “Now, mostly I hold a class once a month, some times twice,” he explains.
“Classes are not specifically open to the public, but if one of my friends recommends someone new or brings someone along for the class, no problem. Sometimes, they share my cooking class with other friends, and that’s ok too,” said Kiet To.
In a city with a relatively small expatriate community, the international cuisine cooking classes are sure to be a fun event to organize. Kiet To does not do catering, but is willing to help out students or friends by making some food for birthdays or special occasions from time to time. For those that love Asian and Oriental cuisine, a new option for finding favorite flavors is most welcome indeed.