We’re huge Anthony Bourdain fans. I mean, anyone with an adventurous palate and a love for travel probably is. When Anthony and his TV crew visited Saigon last they ate at a particular food stall run by a bossy lady who is locally known as “The Lunch Lady”. Everyday she creates one new dish, take it or leave it that’s what she is serving, just make sure to come and get it before it runs out.
We arrived at the Lunch Lady at 3:30pm, a little late I worried I really didn’t want to miss her. There she was under her bright yellow and green awning waiting for us, not one other customer insight. We sat at a plastic table and immediately women started bringing us eggrolls, spring rolls and dipping sauces, items we certainly did not order nor want. ‘Soup’ we said over and over, trying to convey our order with hand gestures. The “Lunch Lady” comes over to greet us and shakes her head, ‘no soup’. I clue in and remember Bourdain mentioning that it was only one dish a day and that’s it. I motion “1 please” and she goes into action.
One huge handful of rice noodles topped with 2 deep fried spring rolls cut into bit sized piece with scissors. She grabs the bowl then shuffles to the next station and adds lovely pieces of BBQ pork, deep fried pork skin, green stuff, sweet stuff, peanut stuff and voila!
The meal was great, perfect balance of sweet, sour, savory, spicy, hot, cold, soft and crunchy. The whole experience was a little bizarre because the entire time we were there we never certain if she was closing down or just opening up, no one spoke English, a cab driver converted our American money to Vietnamese Dong and tried to rip us off $0.50, but the oddest thing of all was when the ladies brought us a bunch of food before we even ordered, it reeked of a tourist scam and we wanted no part of it.
The Lunch Lady to the right preparing our food.
40 meters down the alley from the Lunch Lady we found our next stop, a wonderful Pho making station. Again no one spoke a word of English but this time we were received with warm smiles. Before even sitting down I spotted the ingredient I was after, beef tendon. I first became addicted to the stuff a few years back when Matt and I lived downtown Victoria, only steps away from a delicious Pho restaurant. Albeit tendon might not be for everyone those addicted to the crunchy yet marrow like properties surely understand my excitement when I saw a huge pile of it on a tray, right beside my second favorite ingredient, razor thin sliced quality raw steak. We went all out and ordered 2 extra sides of meat and tendon and had ourselves a wonderful Pho party on the side of the road looking out on the river.
Her magical broth bubbles all day turning it into a sweet rich meaty piece of art. Lunch Lady vs. Pho Lady? Today Pho Lady wins by a landslide.