Vietnamese flavour on Zanzibar Island

Saturday, 2022-02-05 09:24:00
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Kim Anh and local staff in front of the restaurant
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NDO – The lovely wooden tables on the sand with a wooden sign saying: “Special Pho will be included on the menu this week” or “Only this week, we have a new dish for you: Beef noodle soup” invited diners to “Duyen – Vietnamese Homecooking”, the restaurant of Nguyen Thi Kim Anh in Zanzibar.

Determination of setting fire to Vietnamese kitchen

Over the two recent years, visitors to Sharazad Oasis Retreat resort on Zanzibar Island (in Tanzania), which is known as “the pearl of East Africa”, have had the opportunity to enjoy Vietnamese dishes at a beachside restaurant.

Kim Anh’s journey of bringing Vietnamese cuisine to the island off the coast of the Indian Ocean encapsulated in the word "destiny". In 2019, she decided to go to Zanzibar to get a job as a hotel manager. A few months later, the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, causing her to temporarily stop working. In her spare time, Kim Anh began cooking for friends to enjoy and received encouragement of selling Vietnamese dishes. “I thought the idea was quite far-fetched because my fortune at that time was no kitchen and no restaurant and I did not believe that I was predestined to have a strong attachment to cooking”, said Kim Anh.

However, because Kim Anh still wanted to stay in Zanzibar, she tried her hand at cooking Vietnamese dishes and selling them in the form of take-away to earn an income. At first, the guests of the Vietnamese kitchen cooked by Kim Anh were mainly the foreigners who are living in the island. Many of them are working as managers and personnel at the local hotels and resorts, so they introduced her to cook Vietnamese dishes for major parties and events on the island.

In late August 2020, when tourism activities were resumed, Kim Anh returned to work as a hotel manager. On the first working day, she proposed to the investor her Vietnamese culinary project and the maintenance of her small kitchen in Zanzibar. “I told the investor that the project has a spiritual significance for people living far away from home like me”, she said. Because there was no common voice, Kim Anh was forced to choose whether to focus on work or quit her job to continue cooking. “Many people said I was unintelligible. Living in a foreign country amid the complicate development of the pandemic, I should have chosen to continue working to earn my living. However, I decided to quit my job to pursue something that did not make money”, Kim Anh recalled.

Focusing her mind and heart to the business, Kim Anh began to register her company in Zanzibar, named Hanoi Hospitality Ltd. Her key products were Vietnamese dishes. One day, Kim Anh received an offer from the owner of the Sharazad Oasis Retreat hotel to build a Vietnamese restaurant that would be managed by her. As a result, “Duyen – Vietnamese Homecooking”, the first Vietnamese and the third Asian restaurant in Zanzibar, was born.

"Duyen" restaurant serves around 40 dishes. (Photo: DUYEN RESTAURANT)

Predestined relationship in a strange land

Despite a private kitchen and a small restaurant for the promotion of Vietnamese dishes, the development of “Duyen” was not easy. The biggest difficulty was more scarce and expensive raw materials and limitation in transportation due to the impact of the pandemic. Kim Anh had to proactively find ways to overcome the situation, from planting herbs by herself to learning how to produce her own bean sprouts, tofu and flour for rice noodles. Thanks to that, the restaurant’s menu now features around 40 dishes. Most of guests have become familiar with the names of Vietnamese food such as pho (noodle), xoi lac (sticky rice with peanuts), banh cuon (Vietnamese steamed rice rolls) and rice with braised pork ribs. In late 2021, Kim Anh also opened a café named “Hanoi House – Coffee by Kim” in Paje, the centre of Zanzibar, contributing another space for visitors to enjoy Vietnamese drinks.

Since her start-up, Kim Anh has always wished for her company to share benefits with the community. The first thing that came to her mind was the creation of more jobs for local people. The restaurant “Duyen – Vietnamese Homecooking” currently has nearly a dozen local employees working as kitchen assistants and main chefs. In her plan, Kim Anh thought about a concession towards creating more livelihoods for local women while developing a network of Vietnamese cuisine in other tourist attractions.

After two years, Kim Anh's efforts have produced “sweet fruit” with the increasing trust of diners. Guests at the restaurant have sometimes had the opportunity to experience Vietnamese atmosphere through activities such as watching the bright moon in the full moon day, lighting lanterns on the occasion of mid-autumn festival, and the celebration of Tet (Lunar New Year) Festival. “Whenever a diner asked me about the restaurant’s name, I had a chance to talk and introduce Vietnamese culture as well as express my appreciation for the good relationship with Zanzibar, which gave me the opportunity to bring Vietnamese cuisine to the land of Africa”, Kim Anh shared.

“When I enjoyed my first bowl of pho cooked by an African girl, I was very proud and complimented her that she was now qualified to marry a Vietnamese man! I have never been afraid of competition. I always support those who can open their own restaurant, especially a Vietnamese restaurant”, said Kim Anh.