GEHC | Tien's Story

His name is Tien, and his Instagram handle is @acornerkitchen. He makes one feel right at home.

by Joanna Sable | February 4, 2017

Everyone has a story to tell. Take Tien Nhat Can, a 27-year-old Vietnamese man, who turned from finance to cooking because of a deep underlying passion for food. This passion can be accredited to a Grandmother who was a butcher in Vietnam, and loved all things fermented, and a Grandfather who was known as one of the best cooks in the area. Tien’s family has a very coloured history. During the first the Vietnam War, North verses South, the family fled to Cambodia into refugee camps. Once this war was over, the Cambodians, under the Khmer Rouge, were killing anyone and everyone who were not Cambodian. So, off the family went back to Vietnam. This is where Tien’s parents met and this is where Tien was born. I asked Tien what his parents did for a living.  He said that in Vietnam everyone does many jobs.  His mother worked from home as a tailor, and, get ready for this; his dad was a spy! When his father returned from Cambodia he went into the government and worked in this area until he retired.

Tien came to Toronto, following an older sister, to further his education. He attended York University for business and remembers not talking to anyone during his first semester.  In Saigon he was taught to read and write English, but did not speak the language. Tien would sit in front of the TV, night after night, watching the sitcom, Friends, to pick up the language and accent.

Like many parents who worked their way up the ladder, Tien's parents had no intention of their son doing anything menial.  Tien did his best to follow this desire, but he was incredibly unhappy except when he was involved in food and nutrition.  So, one day, he just simply quit his job and began to work in the food industry. To this day, Tien’s parents are not thrilled with his decision, but love their boy and support his choices.

I met Tien at an Instagram food event that I host for restaurants and food businesses. I found his very knowledgeable and quiet way of communicating captivating. He has a true passion for his culture and cuisine. He likes to keep with authentic ingredients and menus, but is not at all afraid to try variations.

I asked Tien if he would be a Great Ethnic Home Cook and he graciously accepted. When I asked him what we were preparing he said Fresh Rolls. Jeez, I thought, this sounds pretty normal and easy, but, shrugged my shoulders and said to myself, hey, it’s his show.

Well, all of us are in for a very delightful surprise.  The following is a variety of rolls, sauces and even a soup, that come out of the simple notion of fresh rolls.

Classic Fresh Rolls


  • 1 ½ pounds of pork belly cut into 1 ½ inch slices
  • 1 pound of 40/50 shrimp, according to Tien this is the perfect size. If they are too small they have no taste and if they are too large you cannot roll them
  • 1 package of vermicelli rice noodles, boiled for 15 minutes or until cooked then rinsed under ice cold water
  • 1 package of rice paper disks
  • 1 head of leaf lettuce washed well
  • 1 bunch of all or any of the following herbs; mint, red mint, Thai basil, lemon balm, washed well
  • ¼ English cucumber, washed and sliced into matchsticks
  • 4 garlic cloves, 2 whole and 2 finely minced
  • 1 Thai chili, washed and minced
  • ½ inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced, plus 1 similar piece whole

Juice of 1 lime

  • 3 tablespoons of sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of water
  • 3 tablespoons of fish sauce, Tien likes the make with 3 crabs on the front, if you can find this.


Fill a pot with cold water just to submerge the pork. Add the 2 whole pieces of garlic and the piece of ginger. Bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the pork pieces lower the heat to medium and let cook for 25 minutes or until when pierced with a knife the juices run clear. Once done remove from the pot to a plate and allow to cool. This step can be done in advance. Reserve liquid for the soup we will make later. 

Place either fresh or frozen shrimp under cold water and rinse well and drain. Now this is where it gets super cool. Do not add any water to the shrimp.  Place them in a pot with a lid and put on a high heat for one minute and then lower the heat to medium for 4 minutes. The shrimp should be perfectly pink when this is done. If there is a bit of gray left turn off the heat and let sit for another minute. Once cool, peel and set aside in a pretty bowl.


For the dipping sauce combine the water, fish sauce, lime juice and sugar. Taste this mixture -  it should have a perfect balance of sweet, tart and savoury. Now add the minced ginger, garlic and chili. The Vietnamese say this must be done in this order, as raw garlic may never touch fish sauce alone. It creates a bad taste. This sauce is perfect made right away or it can be made ahead. The sauce is super delicious and keeps in your fridge for a month so make extra.

Sauce 2 is a Peanut Sauce that is simply ½ cup of Hoisin, warmed together with 2 tablespoons of smooth or chunky peanut butter.

Tien fell in love with peanut butter. Traditional peanut sauce is made with Hoisin mixed with a touch of water topped with chopped peanuts and crispy shallots. Give them all a try.

Tien made a healthy version that is great for next day lunch as it really holds up to an overnight in the fridge.


  • ½ head of curly kale, washed, stem removed and finely sliced
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 1tablespoon of salt
  • 4 assorted colours of bell peppers, washed and thinly sliced
  • 1 ripe avocado sliced
  • Use all the herbs and lettuce that are in the Classic Fresh Roll
  • Any flavour of yogurt you like in the individual serving size


I took out all my pretty dishes and bowls for this because it is so much fun as an interactive meal or if you prefer you can roll them for friends and family. Just remember to use lots of slightly damp towels so the rolls do not dry out.

In the center of the table place a pot of warm water and everything we just made. For the rolls simply run the disks through the water do not saturate just make sure they are completely wet. Place the round on your plate and add lettuce and all the herbs you like. Top with the noodles, just a small handful. They are sticky so use the warm water to wet your hands if necessary. Now, give this roll one roll up. Now add a few shrimp and a few slices of pork. Roll again, tuck in each end and roll all the way.


Voila, you have made your first Classic Fresh Roll. Tien likes to use both the peanut and chili sauces for these.

The Healthy roll is very similar but is only veg, no noodles, meat or shrimp. I must admit to being hesitant about the yogurt, but it is actually really good and makes for a very easy lunch to take to school or work.

Like most people who are either raised with not much or have family who at some point did not have much, Tien uses the pork broth as a quick and easy soup. We added a bit of peppers, the kale stems, a handful of Thai basil, more garlic, ginger, and I happened to have a zucchini on hand. The point is, pop anything into this broth and enjoy it for dinner the next night with a few added noodles. 

A few of the places Tien likes to eat and shop are;

Pho Tien Thanh at 57 Ossington Avenue

Cuu Long Mien Tay at 2522 Jane St.

Jian Hing Supermarket at 1989 Finch St. West

Sunny Supermarket (four locations throughout the GTA)

I hope you enjoyed Tien’s story. Please let me know your thoughts!

Eat well,
Joanna Sable