I’m sitting in a cab with my two travel companions, and we are hoping to turn our failed attempt at taking a bus tour into a successful lunch outing.
Some background; before my first ever trip to Vietnam, I did the same thing I do before every trip. Watch whatever Anthony Bourdain episodes I can find about the city (ideally), or at least the country that I am about to visit. Bourdain has a deep love for Vietnam that I have come to appreciate. However, very little of his time is spent in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam’s largest city. The one place he does visit in this bustling city is the famous (or so I thought) Lunch Lady.
Back to the cab.
Now originally, when I tell the tour operator that I want to eat at the Lunch Lady, he looks at me blankly but I get him to share his phone with me and type it into GoogleMaps. Bam. Communication line established. He grins, explains something to the driver, and then grins at me once more before settling back into his seat. Thirty or so minutes later, he pays the cab, hops out and then the taxi driver looks at me in expectation. He looks at the friends I am traveling with. He looks off into the distance, clearly trying to conjure together some sort of statement for the three foreigners sitting expectantly in the back of his taxi. Finally, he sighs, turns on the engine and pulls back onto the road.
Five minutes go by. Then ten. We go from the grime of the backpacker district, past the beautiful French colonial church at the far end of District 1 and no one has any idea where we are going. Finally, I ask him for his phone and he is relieved. I, on the other hand, am horrified to find that it is from the pre-smart phone days and certainly will not provide me with a 4G guided map. Undeterred, I have the brilliant idea of calling the hostel, whose phone number I have only because I am carrying copies of their maps. He helps me with the phone and I reach one of the surly employees that work at the hostel. He does not have a lot of patience for me.
Me: “Hey, I am a guest at the hostel. I was wondering if you could help me.”
Employee who is just trying to get me off the phone: “200 Le Lai!”
Me: “Oh, that is actually not the information I am looking for. Could you help me find an address of a particular restaurant?”
Employee: *long pause* *more slowly this time* “200. Le. Lai. Street.”
Me: “Again, I already know your address. Could you perhaps find the address of the Lunch Lady for me?”
Even as I say it, the insurmountability of this task becomes obvious to me.
Me: “It is a famous cafe. It is called The Lunch Lady. I just need the address.”
Employee: “I don’t have a map.”
Me: *incredulously picturing the reservation desk with 3 or 4 computers* “Um. Well, maybe you could use Google Maps? On your computer?”
Employee: *getting terse and irritated* “What is the place?!”
Me: *more slowly and clearly* “The. Lunch. Lady.” I try to enunciate every syllable.
Me: “Can you help me find The Lunch Lady?”
Employee: “It isn’t here.” I have no idea what he is referring to, since apparently, as I would discover later, they actually don’t have Google Maps on their computers.
Me: “Oh, uh, well, thanks anyways.”
I guess no matter how clearly I felt that I was stressing the capital letters in The Lunch Lady, I can appreciate why the person on the other end of the phone was irritated. Luckily, when we got out of the cab a few minutes later and found a cafe with wifi, it turned out we were about 800 metres away from our destination.
We sauntered over, held up 3 fingers by way of ordering (there is only one dish prepared per day) and soon received giant, steaming bowls of Bún mắm, an amazing soup with a dark broth that is at once tangy and sweet, and full of large chunks of roast pork, shrimp, okra, eggplant and thick noodles. I add in a generous serving of bean sprouts, basil and a splash of lime.
Each bowl of soup is accompanied with a plate of Gui Con, quite possibly my favourite Vietnamese food, they are fresh spring rolls stuffed with thin noodles, prawns and coriander served with a deliciously sweet peanut sauce.
For directions to the Lunch Lady (seriously, you want those directions!) as well as the daily menu, check out the blog, Vietnam Coracle.
Where to next?