I want to marry this woman. Running a rickety little soup cart behind a small hotel along a steamy and smelly river in the middle of Saigon, the “Lunch Lady” is by far, one of the jewels of street food cuisine. I’ve been looking for her for a long time, especially after I watched the Vietnam episode of NO RESERVATIONS with Anthony Bourdain visited Nguyen Thi Thanh a.k.a. The Lunch Lady, who makes the best soup noodles in the city. Her specialties are the hu tieu, bun bo hue, and of course, pho. Only open from 11am – 2pm everyday, office workers, backpack tourists and traveling foodies congregate around the rickety cart, sit on little plastic seats and slurp up soup nirvana.
I went to Ms.Thanh’s place with my younger siblings, and we were just blown away. I wanted to really try her famous bun bo hue, but she was serving chicken pho. OK, I love pho, but I eat it way too much and wanted some variety. But, to taste her pho is kind of like the litmus test of Vietnamese cuisine. And man, it was mind blowing.
What was unique was the option of egg yolk in the soup. What you do is get a small bowl with hot pho soup and breaking the egg there, so it allows to quickly cook and then throwing it in your main bowl. The soup was flavorful, but subtle and the chicken was a different kind of texture than what I am used to with American poultry. This was definitely free range chicken though.
If you are a bit more adventurous, you can also get the rest of the chicken (gizzards, guts et al) on the side too, for that more rustic experience. Yums! I had to go back the next day, where she was going to serve her hu tieu, which is very famous in the Southern part of Vietnam. It’s essentially a more Chinese influenced soup noodle, but there are many variations in the type of hu tieu that is made.
The Lunch Lady made some amazing hu tieu nam vang or Cambodian style noodle soup, which again, was out of this world.
The soup was a little sweet, and the pork cracklins added a nice savory pop. I slurped this up in no time…. To see this amazing woman in action, check out the Bourdain clip below, where he calls Ms. Thanh’s place, “the center of the world.”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GmUGY-1lhIM That is a mean bowl of bun bo hue!!! So if you ever travel to Saigon, go visit the Lunch Lady. Over at the Gastronomy blog, you can read more about Saigon’s soup goddess with a handy map to find her famous noodle stand.
Later that evening, I walked down the same street and saw Ms. Thanh partaking in Vietnam’s greatest past time, nhau or drinking lots of beer accompanied by Vietnamese beer food. She was loud and proud, joking with her friends and swearing like a sailor. I was bemused at first, which quickly turned to glee.
“Ms. Thanh a.k.a. The Lunch Lady, will you marry me?”