Practically every vendor in town sells the same dish each day. This type of specialization usually results in a dependably consistent product. However, I recently found a lunch lady outside my office at 23 Hoang Sa Street in District 1 that changes up her menu daily without sacrificing quality. Score!
Goi cuon (spring rolls) with hoisin sauce are an everyday staple, but it’s always a surprise which broth and noodle dish she’ll be serving up. Here’s what The Astronomer and I ate on our first visit under her tasty awning.
Goi Cuon (2,000 VND per roll)
Bun Moc – vermicelli rice noodles in a mild pork-based broth with slices of pork and various forcemeats (12,000 VND)
Banh Canh – noodles made of rice and tapioca flour in a mild pork-based broth with slices of pork and various forcemeats (12,000 VND)
Che Thap Cam – dessert drink with seaweed, basil seeds, grass jelly and mung beans (5,000 VND)
The spring rolls were solid, much better than your average street stall rendition. The hoisin sauce, which can either make or break goi cuon, was also very good.
Both main dishes employed the same broth with different noodles. The Astronomer requested bun, while I went for slippery banh canh. During The Astronomer’s “I’m going to eat a new dish each night” phase when I worked at the Saigon Times, he tried bun moc and found it bland. Luckily, this version was anything but boring. The broth was deeply porky and deftly salted. A varied collection of meats and the deep-fried shallots rounded out the dish.
This was my first time having banh canh with a broth made of something other than crab, and I liked it quite a bit. The noodles, which can sometimes be slimy, had a lovely bite like Japanese udon.
I finished off lunch with a tall plastic cup of che. I love the texture of basil seeds between my molars.
Having a standout lunch option five paces from my office is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s good because I have a dependable source of fuel, but it’s not so good because I don’t bother exploring new eateries. I’m sure I’ll find a suitable balance for the sake of gas•tron•o•my.
This lunch lady rules.
See also: Meet the Lunch Lady, Her Noodles Bring All the Boys to the Yard, Life After Bourdain: Reuniting with the Lunch Lady.