July 2, 2012

Vietnam: The Lunch Lady

Anthony Bourdain’s famous Lunch Lady.

            Our first day in Ho Chi Minh City, we decided to walk the whole time to completely experience the city—taking in the views, the architecture, the lifestyle and, of course, the food.

            My sister and I are big fans of Anthony Bourdain. Thus, when visiting other places, we always make sure to include in our itinerary the restaurants that were featured in No Reservations. Our first Anthony Bourdain place is The Lunch Lady

            After experiencing Ben Thanh Market and the Reunification Palace, we walked a little over 2 kilometers to Hoang Sa, northeast of District 1, near the river.

            Along the way, the trees were fewer, the sidewalks and the roads narrower and the buildings shabbier…and it delighted me! I thought, “This is the real Saigon life and it’s more stimulating, culturally”.

            When my sister and I saw the river, we turned right on an alley. The whole alley turned out to be a government housing complex. It’s not beautiful and it’s definitely not striking but it fascinated me without knowing why. I think I could stare at the buildings for hours and never get tired.

            Alas, we made it to The Lunch Lady. It’s a typical noodle stall, with little chairs and tables in an open setting. Luckily, the stall was under a big tree so we’re shaded from the heat and the drizzle of the early afternoon. In the middle is the stall, and there stood Nguyen Thi Thanh, the Lunch Lady, making the noodles herself.

            Nguyen Thi Thanh changes her menu every day, I guess, depending on the ingredients available on the market. But it’s always a different noodle recipe per day so that her customers won’t get tired of eating in her stall.

On the day of our visit, the specialty was Hu Tien Nam Vang which comes with a plate full of lettuce leaves and another plate of sliced baguettes. It was served in a big bowl so we only ordered 1.

Hu Tieu Nam Vang. 35,000 VND / P70.00.

From my research, Hu Tien Nam Vang is a noodle soup which originated in Cambodia, also known as Kuy Teav. It’s a popular rice noodle breakfast in Cambodia. The soup consisted of pork broth with sugar, soy sauce, oyster sauce and fish sauce. 

The original toppings are sliced pork belly, innards and onion springs. But through the years, a lot of versions have emerged. The Lunch Lady’s version consisted of the sliced pork, pig’s blood jelly, liver, onion springs, pepper, nuts (that I don’t recognize) and topped with quail eggs and large shrimps.

For our review of The Lunch Lady’s Hu Tieu, it was not flavorful but not that bland either. I guess we were expecting the strong flavor that usually comes in pho. Although the soup only has a subtle flavor, the toppings make up for it. The amount of noodles is equal to the amount of the toppings. And with that, I think our P70.00 is well worth it.

There are also the sliced baguettes that you dip in the soup. It’s better eaten when the bread is soft and chewy from absorbing the soup’s flavor.

Fresh Spring Rolls. 30,000 VND / P60.00.
A Vietnamese meal isn’t complete without the freshly made spring rolls.

Nuoc Rau Ma. 7,000 VND / P14.00.

Rau Ma, Pennyworth in English and Takip-Kohol in Filipino, is a medicinal herb. Its taste is similar to Wheatgrass. For the adventurous and the veggie-lovers out there, this is a must-try. It’s refreshing and healthy. My sister and I loved it or rather, addicted to it.

Before finishing, we saw another customer order a different recipe of noodles. We also wanted to try it but we were too full. So we just ended our lunch with a picture with Nguyen Thi Thanh.

Then off we go, happy that are belly’s bulging with authentic Vietnamese food and satisfied with our first Anthony Bourdain food stop in Vietnam.

The Lunch Lady
#23 Hoang Sa St., District 1
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

P.S. Sugarcane Juice in Vietnam.

           Nuoc Mia. 5,000VND / P11.00

           All around the city, we kept on seeing Nuoc Mia (sugarcane juice) stalls. We tried one to satisfy our curiosity. I guess, after eating lunch, this is the best thing you can have for dessert while walking in the streets of Saigon. It's cheap, fresh, naturally sweet and refreshingly cold!

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  1. This tour must be very adventurous and the food look very delicious. I am very jealous by seeing these pictures that why I have never been there in my whole life.

    1. Southeast Asia is really a great and cheap place to visit! The food, the sights and the culture are all refreshing. The people are also friendly!:)

  2. Hu tieu Nam Vang is not a Cambodia dish but it's Cantonese immigrants' dish. It's like BO BIA in Bang Kok is also a Cantonese immigrants' dish. The name is still the same in Vietnam. Hu Tieu shops owned by Chinese immigrants in Saigon are countless. Nam Vang is Vietnamese for Phnom Penh.

    1. Nam Vang is Vietnamese name of Phnom Penh. It's nothing related to China. The point makes clear different is some of the original restaurant like Lien Hua sets sugar bottle in the table to add into soup. This is the eating habit/culture of Thai Laos and Combodia. Nothing to do with China.
      You got yourself conflict: Nam Vang is Vietnamese for Phnom Penh.