Unemployed, underemployed Hanoi chefs get busy feeding Covid-19 warriors

By Lan Huong   August 13, 2021 | 11:00 pm PT
Unemployed, underemployed Hanoi chefs get busy feeding Covid-19 warriors
Staff of a Hanoi restaurant arrange dishes in takeaway boxes to deliver to Hanoi Lung Hospital, July 2021. Photo by Dinh Thanh Tung.
Some are jobless and others have incomes cut, but a group of chefs in Hanoi have ignored personal woes to cook for frontline warriors in the pandemic fight.

It is sweltering inside a restaurant kitchen on Yen Phu Street in Hanoi’s Tay Ho District. Five to six masked men are working efficiently, making more than 100 servings of rice and side dishes for medical staff at the Hanoi Lung Hospital, a Covid-19 hotspot in the capital city.

One of the men is Dinh Thanh Tung, 42, a shareholder and operator of the restaurant. After Hanoi imposed lockdown measures on July 25, his restaurant had to suspend operations, but Tung has kept the kitchen fires burning. He called on his staff and other chef friends to join him in providing free meals for medical staff and volunteers in the pandemic fight.

Every day, Tung's team prepares around 150 servings, of which 100 are donated to medical staff at the Hanoi Lung Hospital and the rest given to anti-pandemic workforce members in Chuong Duong Ward, Hoan Kiem District.

Their work starts from 10 a.m. when members of the team start buying food at local markets and prepare the menu. Cooking begins at 2 p.m. Each meal includes a main dish of meat, vegetables, soup and side dishes like salted eggplant, pickles and bean sauce.

While Tung and his friends are responsible for preparing the food, his staff pack it in takeaway boxes and deliver them to the hospital in a pickup.

"My team will not allow strangers into the restaurant, and all members are required to undergo rapid testing for Covid every week to ensure safety. While preparing the ingredients and cooking, everyone has to wear gloves and masks," Tung said.

The food is delivered to the hospital’s security officer or at a separate waiting table to limit direct contact. The group has obtained a travel pass from the hospital.

The restaurants staff deliver servings of rice to a security officer of the Hanoi Lung Hospital, July 2021. Photo courtesy of Dinh Thanh Tung.

Staff of Dinh Thanh Tung's restaurant deliver food servings to a security officer of the Hanoi Lung Hospital, July 2021. Photo by Dinh Thanh Tung.

Before the pandemic broke out in Vietnam last year, Tung's goat meat restaurant would welcome 120-150 customers a day, and he was doing well. However, over the last two years, the restaurant has had to close several times. Despite many difficulties, he has been using his savings to keep the establishment going.

Tung said that when they began providing the free meals to frontline staff, the cost was shared by all shareholders of the restaurant. Later, many friends and other benefactors donated rice, green vegetables and fruits to keep their work going.

Huynh Tuan Nhon, a Quang Nam native who is the restaurant's main chef, said his family of three could not return to their hometown because of the complicated pandemic situation. He and his wife have taken unpaid leave.

Despite having no income, Nhon comes to the restaurant every day at 9 a.m. to cook food along with peers.

"For me, cooking meals for frontline medical staff is an effective way to support the national anti-pandemic fight," Nhon said.

Le Quoc Dung, 44, chef at a famous restaurant chain in Hanoi, joined the team after his establishment closed down.

"Though I have to stand in the sweltering kitchen every day, I feel happy because I am doing something useful and supporting frontline medical staff with delicious meals," Dung said.

Tung, Nhon and Dung are hoping Hanoi is able to contain the outbreak quickly so that all services can return to normal.

Hanoi has recorded over 2,300 infections during the ongoing wave that struck the country late April. The capital city of more than 8 million people has extended social distancing for another two weeks until August 23.

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