"What would you guys like to eat?” Vu asks us, passing a bowl of noodles to a client sitting next to me.
One day in August I had travelled to this area for a different article and I accidentally pulled my bike over at his spot to have lunch. Furnished with plastic stools and old wooden tables, protected against rain and sun by large plastic sheets, this place is always busy, especially at lunchtime.
Although only 42 years old, Vu has an attachment to this spot spanning 40 years, from the time he was a child and his mum was still the owner. Every change in the area seems like yesterday to him.
“I still remember the time when the train station was at the 23/9 Park [opposite],” he recalls, pouring the broth into a bowl “Our place was so busy with customers who had travelled here by train. The business now is okay because the bus station is next door.”
At that time, Dang Thi Nhu was a well-established booksellers’ street in Saigon. His mother’s banh canh cua (crab noodle soup) was a rarity, as there were only two or three places serving this dish around the town.
With his childhood memories as well as his love for his mother, he decided to keep her legacy alive after her poor health prevented her continuing the business. But he’s not alone, as standing behind him are his wife and brothers who are taking care of different aspects of the business.
In order to get more clients and satisfy demand, Vu added cha gio (fried spring rolls) and goi cuon (fresh spring rolls) to the menu. Food quality and safety are his priority, so all ingredients are bought, cooked and sold on the same day.
The Next Generation
“Do you want to open a restaurant in the future?” I ask while the toothpick is still in my mouth.
“It’s my dream, but I’m scared to make it come true,” he replies.
It’s not surprising that people are scared of opening a new business in Saigon, the most expensive city in the country. The fear barrier is even higher when the location needs to be in District 1. And it’s not difficult to understand why people get anxious when they have to give up old habits and start over. The 40-year habit seems the biggest obstacle.
“I feel okay with the business right now,” explains Vu. “I earn enough money for the kids and family. Let’s just keep it that way for a while.”
Does he think his children will be interested in taking over in the future?
“If the kids want to continue this, then we might open a place for them.” — Vu Ha Kim Vy
To see the other stories in this series, please click on the links below:
The Banh Mi Seller
The Shoe Repairer
The Banh Canh Cua Seller
The Street Barber
The Flower Seller
The Salad Professor
The Tuk Tuk Driver