HCMC, District 1 Food: The Celebrity Lunch Lady

by - August 01, 2017

Probably the most famous street vendor in Saigon, Nguyen Thi Thanh (aka the Lunch Lady) propelled to international fame after she was featured in Anthony Bourdain's No Reservation episode in Vietnam. She's known for her noodles dishes and she serves a different noodle dish every day of the week. There is no menu, but from what I understand, she serves the same noodle dish the same day of each week. Plus she's only open during lunch time.
For a complete guide to all the noodles she serve and the days each are served, visit: http://vietnamcoracle.com/the-lunch-lady-a-diary/

I went on a Saturday and the noodle dish served is Bánh canh cua. It's a bowl of thick noodles in thick and rich fish soup reminiscent of the texture of tomato soup. There are hints of lemongrass and garlic, and you can temper the spiciness of the soup by adding chilli. It's an extremely colourful dish with lots of ingredients such as prawn, (huge slab of) crab meat, quail eggs and beef. I really love this Bánh canh cua. It's extremely delicious and it leaves me with a warm fuzzy feeling, especially in my tummy.   
One interesting thing for me was how people would just swarm over to your table once you sit, and place lots of other food on your table. Seems like these come as a 'package' with the noodles. For example, I was served both fresh and fried spring rolls (yay!) and dough fritters. You can of course indicate to them that you do not want them. I highly recommend that you have the fried and fresh spring rolls- they're one of the best I had in my 5 days in Ho Chi Minh.
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When I was there, I observed that there was a good mix of tourists and locals. Most locals would just do a takeaway and zip off on their motorbikes. The Lunch Lady would also approach you to sell her book (in English of course) if she knows that you are a foreigner. I recall that it costs about US$5 a book, and she would autograph it as well. You also get to take a commemoratory photo with her!

The Lunch Lady
Address: Phường Đa Kao, District 1 (Quan 1), Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
How to get there: Since her stall is along the street, it may be tricky to get there. But I got there fine using Grab and keying in the address. Make sure you look out for the stall still so you get dropped right at the place. In fact, I've been using Grab without any problems in Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh, Da Nang and Hoi An thus far). I find it a lot easier to copy and paste the address rather than communicate it to the taxi drivers. I can't, for the love of god, pronounce Vietnamese words.  

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