I’ve been enamored with the Lunch Lady‘s noodles ever since I started my gig at AsiaLIFE. Unless I have commitments beyond my control, this joint near 23 Hoang Sa in District 1 is my go-to place for afternoon refueling.
After frequenting her stall everyday for the past month, The Astronomer and I have figured out that bun bo is always sold on Fridays. Monday through Thursday are still a bit of a mystery, but more often than not it’s delicious. Regardless of what’s on offer, her standard rate is 12,000 VND per bowl.
I usually avoid slurping up broths in noodle dishes because they tend to be too oily. However, I throw caution to the wind when dining here because her broths are chug-worthy.
Bun Bo: According to The Astronomer, the lunch lady’s best dish is bun bo. I’m still up in the air about which one I love most, but her bun bo definitely ranks high. The broth has a deep lemongrass flavor and just a hint of spiciness, and there’s always a generous amount of tender meat. By the way, the lunch lady’s secret to avoiding gristly meat is pineapple. She adds a whole one to the broth, which tenderizes the meat and imparts a bit of sweetness to the broth.
Hu Tieu Nam Vang: Andrea Nguyen at Viet World Kitchen says that hu tieu nam vang is a “Cambodian-Chinese concoction that the Vietnamese ‘borrowed’ and then made their own. Nam Vang is the Viet word for Phnom Penh, and the southern part of Vietnam has deep Khmer roots.”
Hu tieu nam vang is The Astronomer’s least favorite because it contains too many odds and ends (i.e. quail eggs, innards, liver). I, on the other hand, really love the sweet porky broth and find offal awfully tasty. I always request mi (egg noodles) rather than hu tieu (opaque rice noodles) with this dish because I like the taste and texture much better.
Bun Thai: The broth tastes just like tom yum goong soup and has a spicy kick that hits the back of my throat. Thick rice noodles, squid, fried fish cakes and a single shrimp round out the dish nicely. This little number is my colleague Fiona’s favorite.
Bun Rieu Chay: On the first and fifteenth of the Lunar calendar, the lunch lady prepares vegetarian noodles. Her bun rieu chay is so believable that The Astronomer and I didn’t even know it was vegetarian until we asked. Tofu and bean curd make fine substitutions for snails and crab.
Banh Canh: Mmm, banh canh. I never fully appreciated these chewy tapioca noodles until recently. When I was a kid, I just thought they were a bitch to eat because they were so gosh darn slippery. The lunch lady makes at least two types of banh canh—a simple one in a pork broth and this one which contains all sorts of fish cakes, fried shallots and a quail egg. I love how she puts quail eggs in everything!
Mi Ga Tiem: This dish is traditionally made with duck, but the lunch lady uses chicken because it’s less fatty. However, from looking at the broth, I’d say the chicken isn’t cutting that many calories. The chicken version is pretty darn good, but I always prefer duck over chicken. The pickled green papaya served on the side is really good, but the best part is the sweet star anise broth.
Bun Mam: I’m not quite sure what’s exactly in bun mam, but I really really like it. The broth is deeply flavorful and doesn’t really taste like mam (fermented shrimp paste). The soup comes with pineapple, eggplant, barbecued pork (thit heo quay), shrimp, okra, chives and thick rice noodles.
My lunch lady is incredible!
See also: Lunch Lady, Meet the Lunch Lady, and Life After Bourdain: Reuniting with the Lunch Lady.