© 2014 Kevin Longa Coconut Salad, Ben Tre - Get to Solutions Quicker - Kevin Longa -

#FoodEntrepreneur Friday: One Method to Get to Solutions Quicker – The Ben Tre Coconut Strategy

The food: Coconut Salad

Where to find it: Hoi Minh Buddhist Temple, Ben Tre Province, Vietnam


Welcome to another edition of #FoodEntrepreneur Friday, where I serve up an order of international food with a side of insight for entrepreneurs.


Bombs hailed across the rice paddies of Ben Tre Province during the Vietnam War. Villages blazed in napalm-explosion red and gaseous agent orange. Ben Tre smoldered while the Southern Vietnamese President Duong Van Minh delivered the unconditional surrender to the Communists in 1975. The war ended, but problems only began as Ben Tre and its people embarked upon reconstruction.

Ben Tre had nothing. A war of attrition decimated their villages. Families needed to reunite or mourn their lost ones. They had no food. The community had a lot to sort out, a lot of problems.

In society and school, we are taught to avoid problems. We are told that we should focus on unambiguous solutions and answers. If you don’t purchase insurance, then life’s unexpected curveballs might hit you in the face and you’ll end up with huge consequences (bills, death). 2+2 = 4. Always. No exception.

Now I must admit that unambiguous answers, insurance and arithmetic definitely have their merit to society. But sometimes easy, clearcut answers can get our society stuck in a stagnant rhythm that avoids facing problems head-on.

When you face problems head-on, innovation speeds forward and you get to solutions quicker. Lightbulbs solve darkness and cronuts solve overcrowded New York subways.

Ben Tre faced the problem of food supply. Their staples of rice smoldered in bomb-ridden fields. Their livestock had been slaughtered by enemy fire or had fled during the chaos. A lack of food supply is a large, widespread problem with no easy solution.

However, Ben Tre knew the secret to solving big problems. They knew that if you need to get to a solution quickly (like having your next meal), then you need to define the problem first. If you clearly define a problem, then the solution will logically present itself. You’ll get to solutions quicker.

Ben Tre had the problem of “what can we do about our scarce food supply?”.  That’s a gargantuan problem. To this day the United Nations tries to solve the huge, global problem of food scarcity. In fact, they even created a sub organization called the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to help solve the world food scarcity problem. Unfortunately, post-war Ben Tre didn’t have the luxury of indefinite time on their hands. They needed food immediately. Therefore, Ben Tre decided to instead ask a more pointed question and tackle a refined problem: “what do we have that can feed us?”

A refined question and a new perspective (literally) helped them get to solutions quicker than expected. They looked amongst the normal places for food: the lakes, the rice fields, the food storage huts, the farmlands. They found nothing. But then they shifted perspectives and looked up. They looked to the trees. After the Vietnam War, they had nothing—except coconuts. Thankfully, many of their near-indestructible coconut trees continued to stand tall after the war.

Ben Tre farm fields - Kevin Longa -

So after figuring out the solution to the problem “what do we have that can feed us?” (solution: coconuts from our trees), the Ben Tre people asked another clearly defined question: “what old recipes can we adapt to the abundant coconut food resource?” Soon Ben Tre started cooking up traditional Vietnamese bahn xeo with coconut slices and juice. They added coconut to soups and drinks. They even created whole salads made entirely of coconut—like in the picture for today’s #FoodEntrepreneur Friday.

Day by day Ben Tre rebuilt their town with coconuts as a foundation to their new society. With coconut candy and juices being exported from the province, the community is now known as a coconut capital of the world. Coconuts represent livelihood and transformation for a war-torn Ben Tre Province.


Ben Tre food entrepreneur cutting coconut candy - Kevin Longa -

Ben Tre food entrepreneur cutting coconut candy


With clearly defined, small problems, Ben Tre was able to discover step-by-step solutions to an overwhelming food scarcity problem. They knew the secret on how to get to solutions quicker:

If you clearly define a problem, then the solution will logically present itself.

And with that, I present to you the bounty of food awesomeness that Ben Tre has been able to create today—all thanks to the economically reinvigorating Ben Tre coconuts.

A Ben Tre Smörgåsbord of coconut-inspired dishes.

A Ben Tre Smörgåsbord of coconut-inspired dishes.


Coconuts are also a big deal in the PhilippinesCheck out this post on how the Filipinos use coconut to make seafood even more delicious.

Read how coconuts taught me how to be a better entrepreneur.

And devour more of this epic Ben Tre meal here.

Kevin Longa enjoying a refreshing coconut drink in Ben Tre

Just enjoying a refreshing coconut drink in Ben Tre

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