A traveller to Ho Chi Minh City can experience all of the foodie delights of Vietnamese cuisine without ever having to enter an actual restaurant. Street vendors offer quick, cheap, convenient, and downright gourmet meals at every turn. One of the most well known street vendor stalls made famous by Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservation’s” travel foodie show is The Lunch Lady of Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon (her real name is Ms. Nguyen Thi Thanh).
Fun tip: combine a visit with the Lunch Lady with a cyclo tour!
During our trip to Ho Chi Minh City (article here) I negotiated a 3-wheeled cyclo tour in which my partner and I got a tour of the city and had our lunch at The Lunch Lady’s noodle stall (the unofficial Facebook page here). We were fortunate to arrive a little earlier than the lunch rush in order to get an available table. The outside seating area was packed with tourists and locals alike.
More than a food stand, an enterprise!
There were several mini-stands (I guess that’s what they could be called) near the noodle stall to provide accompanying dishes and drinks to our noodle meal. I got the sense that they were her friends and/or family and that she welcomed to capitalize on her growing fame. Which would be perfectly understandable and was completely acceptable as the sides (a shrimp pancake) and the cold red Beer Saigon made wonderful accompaniments to the bowl of noodle soup. She certainly was enjoying the fame. She welcomed everyone who sat down, offered to sell her cookbook (we got one…she’s so sweet it’s hard to say no), and signed the inside cover of each purchase.
The noodle soup was absolutely amazing. I’ve never had anything like it. She rotates her soup daily so it’s not like there’s one soup she’s particular well known for. Rather she is well known for ALL of her soups. I regret that I didn’t learn the name of the soup. (Note: I’ve recently learned that the soup is called: Bún Mắm). It was so different from other soups I’ve had in Asia.
If I had to describe it I would say it’s the equivalent of an Asian gumbo. It was a hodgepodge mix of meats and veggies: shrimp, squid, pork belly, onions, pumpkin, and of course a large succulently tender okra. The broth was sweet, spicy, and savory. I saw several small pineapples bobbing around in her cauldron which must give the broth that sweet and savory taste.
The Lunch Lady’s noodle stall is off the beaten path of the main area of District 1. But it’s not too difficult to get there and it’s absolutely worth the effort. You won’t be disappointed with whatever is being served that day!