May 2008

Lunch Lady


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.

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12 thoughts on “Lunch Lady

  1. So jealous with your lunch !!! There are quite a lot of good places in Saigon for good Mun Moc (saigonized style). For breakfast time with Bun Moc, go to Duong Cam cafe (corner Le Quy Don + Dien Bien Phu) (don’t know if it’s still open): great place to have morning breakfast on weekend, it’s in garden. Bun Moc is supposed to be seasoned with Mam Tom (shrimp paste) when you eat it to bring out the flavor of the dish. (ah there’s one good Bun Moc on one side of Ben Thanh market too, but I forget the name of the street 🙂 )

  2. mmm, everything looks delicious! Wish we had something like that by the office… the drink sounds interesting, is it sweet or savory I wonder?

  3. Love, love, love your blog!
    Especially droolworthy, “Lunch Lady” post.
    Had to keep myself from immediately buying a RT ticket for L.L.’s doorstep!
    Your comment about “loving the texture of basil seeds between your molars” made me wince as in a “”brain freeze moment.
    Anything that finds its way between my molars finds me making a mad dash for the dental floss.

  4. Foodhoe – Life would be much more delicious if there were more lunch ladies like this one :-). The drink is a sweet dessert. It’s in the genre of “che,” but is much lighter because it doesn’t have any coconut milk.

    Cher – The lunch lady would appreciate your patronage! Come on over 😉

  5. God Damn! I live in one of the best country in the world, and all I have to look forward to for lunch and dinners are the boring staples of north american processed foods. Damn it!

  6. I am traveling to Vietnam and stopping in Saigon for several days. An office mate told me about the Lunch Lady and showed me your website. After reading your blog on the Lunch Lady I am making it my mission to find her in Saigon and try a bowl of noodles. I promised my co-worker that I would take a picture of the me and the lunch lady with a bowl of her noodles. I will report on my trip and bowl of noodles as soon as I can. Regards, Papa Leo

  7. I went there last week and have tried the Bum Mam and Bun Bo Hue. It’s to die for.

  8. I could not find it! it ruined the rest of my day. I walked around and asked people and they didnt know who I was talking about. I only wished that I got to eat some of her food.

  9. Chanel surfing with my husband yesterday we came across the rerun of anthony in Vietnam nam. I had seen it twice before but had to leave it on just to see the segment on the lunch lady. My mouth waters for the contents of her pot with the pineapples floating in it. I’m jealous! Anyone want to go to saigon soon?

  10. Crap, I was there last week, always good food. Which I knoew about this place then. How back to the trash they call food in Australia.

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