The “Lunch Lady”, given said name by http://gastronomyblog.com/, was introduced to me by Ashley, my fellow food enthusiast and eating partner in crime here in Ho Chi Minh City. When we aren’t doing stuff related to English teaching, you are likely to find Ashley and I sending each other links via gchat to websites and blogs we’ve found related to food in HCMC. So after reading about the Lunch Lady on various blogs and seeing Anthony Bourdain visit her on one of his trips to Vietnam, Ashley decided this was a place we had to try out.
“Every morning before the sun rises, Nguyen Thi Thanh rolls out of bed, dons a comfy do bo (Vietnamese pyjamas), hops on her motorbike and heads to Thi Nghe Market. Thanh has been frequenting the same vendors for years, so everyone knows her by name and provides her with the freshest meats, noodles, herbs and vegetables.
Thanh arrives home at 8 am and begins preparing the day’s noodle dish. All of her broths are made from scratch, and she is blessed with a certain touch that somehow allows her soup seasonings to simultaneously suit everyone’s tastes. An hour before noon, the broth is finally perfect, and a crowd of customers gathered under a shady tree near her apartment is ready to dig into a hot bowl of noodles. This well-worn routine has been a part of Thanh’s life for the past decade, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.”
After a thirty minute walk on Tuesday we reached our destination sweaty and thirsty from the humid 90 degree weather. We were shown to a table, bought two bottles of cold water and eagerly awaited what was to come. First came a plate of four spring rolls served to us by Lunch Lady’s sister. They had the usual ingredients (noodles, shrimp, pork, mint) and were served with a delicious peanut sauce. Next came Tuesday’s specialty: Banh Canh. Now I am no food connoisseur so when our bowls of soup came out I had difficulty figuring out what I was actually eating. Luckily, gastronomyblog is way more knowledgeable and can give you guys some insight. Here is what she says about Tuesday’s dish:
“Tuesdays feature a double punch of banh canh and bun moc. Both dishes are composed of a satisfying collection of meats, deep-fried shallots and a deeply flavourful and deftly salted pork-based broth, but they employ different noodles. The bun moc uses vermicelli rice noodles, while banh canh contains a thick udon-like noodle with a bite. “
This is what the soup looks like when it is served to you.
And this is what the noodles look like.
There are a couple things about this meal that make it stand apart from other soups. First, the broth is excellent. It is extremely rich and has so much flavor but at the same time is very light and drinkable. Secondly, I am a huge fan of Udon Noodles and these were the first thick noodles I’ve had since being in HCMC. You could tell they were extremely fresh for a couple of reasons. One, there was a lady physically making them at the table next to us and two, the texture was unbelievably soft. In addition to the noodles there was a mixture of assorted goodies and also some things I have not yet worked up the courage to eat in the soup. Those white pieces with black dots tasted a lot like fish chips and I liked dunking half of the chip into the broth and leaving the other half dry so there was a mixture of both crunchy and soft. The chicken and shrimp were both delicious but I stayed away from the liver, intestine and gizzards. I’m sure that they add more flavor to the broth but good luck trying to get me to actually eat it. Maybe eventually I’ll work up the courage. MAYBE.
All in all the food was great and it was nice eating outside at miniature tables amongst the locals. One thing that sucks about being a foreigner in Asia is that people know you are not a local and will therefore charge you more. Normally a bowl of soup is supposed to be 13,000VND but we were charged 20,000. Yeah, it sucks. But is it worth it to argue with someone who speaks almost no English over less than fifty cents? Probably not.
Ashley and I will definitely be returning to Lunch Lady on different days of the week so hopefully there will be a new post up soon about another one of her dishes. Stay tuned!
The Lunch Lady is located at 23 Hoang Sa. Thi Nghe Canal. Binh Thanh District.