Don’t Let Anyone Tell You Otherwise: The Lunch Lady Of Saigon Serves Meals To Die For
It’s rare that I will dig into a bowl of watery, bland soup here in the U.S. and I don’t harken back to happier times. Specifically, a certain afternoon in the bowels of Saigon sitting on a small, plastic chair chowing down on a freshly poured bowl of soup full of thick slices of meat, savory broth, giant-sized shrimp and a big blog of congealed pig blood (yes, pig blood). This piping hot bowl of ecstasy was given to me courtesy of the now famous Nguyen Thi Thanh, better known in the world as the “Lunch Lady” of Saigon, of No Reservation fame (and the countless viewers and food bloggers who have followed in Mr. Bourdain’s steps).
The Sydney Morning Herald recently sought ought Thanh to see what all the fuss was about, and they were surprisingly (dare I say smugly so) unimpressed with the offerings. Though expecting the usual Tuesday offering of bun moc (vermicelli noodles, shallots and spicy meat), instead they were served up “a broth of unshelled prawns, meat that can’t be identified and perfect noodles.” The chili impact was unexpectedly less than searing, and their final assessment: “I don’t know what I’m eating but I finish the lot. It’s good, not remarkable, but the obsession to find the ‘Lunch Lady’ has been satisfied.”
My guess is that all over street corners and courtyards throughout Vietnam, intrepid travelers can find “lunch ladies” whose daily offerings easily match up to Thanh’s, yet they lack the exposure that is given by being featured in an international travel show with a host gushing over their meals. However, as is the case anywhere in the world, there’s a reason certain restaurants and food stand have people lining up around the corner every day, and from my own personal experience, the Lunch Lady of Saigon should be one of those places.
I’m sure there are many more like her throughout the region, but she is hands-down one of the best places to begin your search, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.