At Hoa Sua, Dining Makes the Difference
Vinh Phu, an awkward looking nineteen-year-old, used to be among the dozens of children living on the streets of Hanoi. Today he is learning English and studying French cooking. He hopes to be a pastry chef like his friend Le Van Hoa who also grew up on the streets but now works at the five-star Metropole Hotel. Vinh and Le got their start thanks to the Hoa Sua restaurant, a place that provides more than good food and a relaxing atmosphere. It is also a privately-run school that gives orphans and street children a chance.
Hoa Sua is definitely among the "in" restaurants in Hanoi, and deservedly so. Reservations are a must if you want to get a spot among the diplomats, foreign correspondents and businesspeople who linger at their regular tables. The setting is conducive to morning coffees or long lunches under the bougainvillea. Hoa Sua is located in an old French villa across from the Hanoi opera house. You step through the garden gate and behind the pale yellow wall is a world secluded from the traffic and pollution of the city. The dozen or so tables outside are shaded by umbrellas and palm trees. Inside, there are ceiling fans and large windows.
The menu at Hoa Sua, written in French, Vietnamese and English, is a blend of French and Vietnamese dishes. You can start with nem, Vietnamese spring rolls, and move on to an individual quiche with a green salad. Another favorite is the grilled goat cheese (imported from France) on a thick piece of pain de campagne. Most people also indulge in a side-order of French fries. For dessert, there is an enticing array of pastries including lemon tarts, cream puffs, napoleons and chocolate mousse.
If you can't get a table or you just want a snack, try the shop next to the restaurant. A sign reading "La Boulangerie" marks the spot where you can buy individual quiches, homemade preserves and the perfect chocolate tart'all at reasonable prices. A pastry chef from France trained the bakers at Hoa Sua and it shows. The shop has the best selection of bread in Hanoi, including shelves of brioches, baguettes and pain au raisin. The pineapple cake is fresh and moist. The fruit tart is the perfect pick-me-up. If you're packing a picnic, come here for the sandwiches and cold drinks.
The service at both the restaurant and the bakery is eager and pleasant. Unless someone told you, you would never know that the young staff'-chefs, waiters and waitresses'are all in fact trainees who have been hand-picked from local orphanages and charities. The work-study program at Hoa Sua makes it the first restaurant of its kind in Vietnam. It was started in April 1995 by Bideaux Nguyen Sang Thu, who heads the restaurant and acts as a general advisor. Madame Bideaux grew up in Halong Bay and later moved to France. When she returned to Vietnam to see relatives she was struck by the large numbers of street children and wanted to help them. "I came back to visit my family a few years ago and saw there was a need for this kind of program," she says. She had heard about similar schools in other countries and thus Hoa Sua was born.
It took two years to set up the school. Originally it received funds from the United Nations' One Percent For Development program and two French non-governmental organizations. Now the private school is supported entirely by the restaurant's profits. There are approximately sixty students, aged seventeen to twenty-five, and each one stays for three to six months. They study French and English conversation and work in the restaurant where they learn to cook French and Vietnamese cuisine. The school provides each student with tuition, room, board and an allowance. When they are sick, the school provides medical care.
Madame Bideaux works twelve hours a day at the restaurant, planning the menus, teaching French cooking and taking care of the business-side of the organization. Her colleague Madame Pham Thi Vy runs the classes. Madame Vy is committed to her students and their success. "Many of them have been living on the streets for a long time and we have to teach them everything," she says. "We teach them to be neat and clean and on time. We train them and we educate them." The graduates go on to work in hotels, restaurants and private homes. Madame Vy says the students come to think of the school as their family and stay in touch after they have left. "They come back on their days off. They are very loyal."
Madame Bideaux, who ran a restaurant in France for seven years, is realistic about the future. The restaurant is able to support itself and the school, but they need better kitchen equipment and more teachers and classes. She also would like to see similar projects started in other Vietnamese cities. "It's a success," she says, "but there are a lot of things we can improve." But she is already improving things, one student at a time.
Hoa Sua Restaurant
6C Phan Chu Trinh, Hanoi Tel 8240448
Pastry Shop: 8am-7pm daily
Lunch: 11am-2pm daily
Dinner by private arrangement.
Private catering available.
Lunch for two, with wine, about $10.00.
Published on 10/1/96