Vietnamese expat cooks up storm in Japan with diminutive dishes

By Hai Hien   October 16, 2021 | 09:39 am GMT+7
Nguyen Thanh Hieu has made a name for himself in Japan with a hobby: going to great lengths to cook the smallest size Vietnamese and Japanese dishes.
On Sept. 30, Japans only public broadcaster NHK showcased a two-minute video about Le Thanh Hieu, Vietnamese living in Kanagawa.After a year, Hieu has made more than 100 dishes that are as tiny as a fingertip and very elaborate and meticulous, NHK said. One day later, Nippon TV also talked introduced dishes of the IT engineer from central Quang Ngai Province of Vietnam. Hieu’s YouTube channel has garnered more than 110,000 subscribers, of which 75% are Japanese, according to Nippon TV.

On Sept. 30, Japanese public broadcaster NHK broadcast a two-minute video about Hieu, who lives in Kanagawa.
It noted that in a year, Hieu had very elaborately and meticulously made more than 100 dishes that were are as tiny as a fingertip.
A day later, Nippon TV also introduced the dishes made by the IT engineer, a native of the central Vietnamese province of Quang Ngai. Hieu’s YouTube channel has more than 110,000 subscribers now of which 75 percent are Japanese, according to Nippon TV.

The idea to make tiny dishes came to Hieu two years ago after watching a video online teaching people to cook small dishes    I like cooking. Moreover, micro-size dishes are rarely, so I think they will be well received, said Hieu.

The idea of making tiny-sized dishes came to Hieu two years ago after watching an online video that taught people how to do it.
"I like cooking. And this is rarely done. So I thought that they will be well received," said Hieu.

In Dec. 2019, Hieu started making the first tiny dish. It was the Vietnamese traditional banh chung cake (square sticky rice cake), hoping to introduce Vietnamese culture to the Japanese. Then he made some other traditional dishes such as bitter melon soup and pho, etc.Cooking utensils are ordered at specialized stores for miniatures in Japan and abroad. Although they are small, their prices are high. For example, a refined metal pot costs VND400,000, higher than the price of a regular pot. He also makes utensils himself since he could not find them in markets. Recently, he bought an aluminum plate to make a mold for banh cuon (Vietnamese rice crepe) because he could not find it.

In Dec. 2019, Hieu started making his first tiny dish. It was the Vietnamese traditional banh chun (square sticky rice cake), hoping to introduce Vietnamese culture to the Japanese. Then he made some other traditional dishes like bitter melon soup and pho.
To cook tiny dishes, cooking utensils have to be ordered from specialized stores for miniatures in Japan and abroad. Although they are small, their prices are high. For example, a refined metal pot costs VND400,000, higher than the price of a regular pot. Hieu also makes the utensils himself if he cannot find what he wants in the market. Recently, he bought an aluminum plate to make a mold for banh cuon (Vietnamese steamed rice crepe).

He is not a professional cook, but he has had a passion for cooking since he was a child, even cooking tiny dishes is much more difficult than ordinary ones.  Most of the time, I just estimate ingredients by my feelings and based on my own experience, said Hieu.Initially, when he was not familiar with estimating ingredients, his products were not satisfying. The tools are tiny, so it is very difficult to find them when they are lost.

Hieu has had a passion for cooking since he was a child, and he got into his new hobby even though even cooking tiny dishes is much more difficult than normal-sized ones. He said he estimates the ingredients needed based on "feelings and experience."
Initially, the dishes did not come out well because his estimates were off; and he faced other challenges like finding the very tiny tools when they got lost. But his passion helped overcome the pains.

Each video depends on ingredients, so Hieu did not come up with the script. Every time he finds the right dish, he finds related recipes and starts cooking and recording videos.    Tiny dishes must be small but delicious, so he always adheres to all the steps. He also changes his video angles to attract viewers’ interest.  In his kitchen, he puts many dolls. Its like playing with toys when I was a kid.

Hieu said that every time he finds the "right" dish, he finds related recipes and starts cooking and recording videos.
The tiny dishes "can’t just look good, they must also be delicious," so he makes them painstakingly, not missing a step. He also changes his video angles to attract viewers’ attention. In his kitchen, he has placed many dolls that are featured in his videos.
"It's like playing with toys when I was a kid."

At first, Hieu used coal to cook. But once he made a bamkuchen, because the coal fire burned the kitchen floor, so later he switched to candles. Adjusting the fire when cooking tiny foods is also a challenge.    For example, to make Takoyaki with a diameter of 5mm, he must avoid using direct heat to bake, because it will dish the cake to burn quickly. The mold used for his Takoyaki is the smallest in the world, requiring meticulousness and high concentration, Hieu said.

At first, Hieu used coal to cook the tiny dishes. But once, while making a bamkuchen (popular dessert cake in Japan), the coal burned the kitchen floor, so he switched to candles. Adjusting the fire when cooking tiny dishes is also a challenge.
For example, to make Takoyaki (also known as Octopubs balls) with a diameter of 5mm, he had to avoid using direct heat to bake. The mold used for his Takoyaki was the "smallest in the world", requiring high concentration and meticulousness in cooking, Hieu said.

Living alone, Hieu spends 3-5 hours recording each video. When his first videos were published, the audience commented that there was a lot of noise and saturated colors, Hieu then changed the microphone and customized the color accordingly.    At the beginning, my videos and content were very naive, the layout was not beautiful, the final products were not as expected. But it is very meaningful for me to learn and change.

Hieu, who lives alone, spends 3-5 hours recording each video. When his first videos were released, the audience commented that there was a lot of noise and saturated colors. He changed the microphone and made the color adjustments.
"At the beginning, my videos and content were very naive, the layout was not beautiful and the final products were not as expected. "But it was a very meaningful process for me to learn and change."

At first, the number of views for each video was low, so he was discouraged and intended to give up. Later, in addition to his YouTube channel, he also posted videos on many different platforms, becoming more widely known to the audience. When he became more famous, many viewers in Japan have texted the Vietnamese man saying that they watch his videos every night before going to bed to relax.  I am very happy to make people happy, said Hieu.

At first, the number of views for each video was very low, so he was discouraged and thought of giving up. Later, however, after he posted his videos on many different platforms, more and more people came to know of his work.

After receiving attention and recognition from mainstream Japanese media, Hieu said he was thrilled and proud because this does not happen very often in the Vietnamese expat community.  He said he also hopes that his micro-cooking channel will contribute to introducing Vietnamese culture to international friends.   Many viewers in Japan have texted the Vietnamese man saying that they watch his videos every night before going to bed to relax. This has been his best reward so far.  I am very happy to make people happy.

After receiving attention and recognition from mainstream Japanese media, Hieu said he was thrilled and proud because this does not happen very often in the Vietnamese expat community.
He said he also hopes that his micro-cooking channel will contribute to introducing Vietnamese culture to international friends. Many viewers in Japan have texted the Vietnamese man saying that they watch his videos every night before going to bed to relax. This has been his best reward so far.
"I am very happy to make people happy."

Photo courtesy of Nguyen Thanh Hieu

 
 
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