the lunch lady

Every morning before the sun rises, Nguyen Thi Thanh rolls out of bed, dons a comfy do bo (Vietnamese pyjamas), hops on her motorbike and heads to Thi Nghe Market. Thanh has been frequenting the same vendors for years, so everyone knows her by name and provides her with the freshest meats, noodles, herbs and vegetables.

Thanh arrives home at 8 am and begins preparing the day’s noodle dish. All of her broths are made from scratch, and she is blessed with a certain touch that somehow allows her soup seasonings to simultaneously suit everyone’s tastes. An hour before noon, the broth is finally perfect, and a crowd of customers gathered under a shady tree near her apartment is ready to dig into a hot bowl of noodles. This well-worn routine has been a part of Thanh’s life for the past decade, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Despite recent dramatic increases in the costs of raw ingredients, Thanh refuses to raise her prices above 13,000 VND. She does not want to burden her customers, who are mostly local residents and workers. Instead, she compensates by selling additional bowls of noodles. “I used to sell 15 kilograms of noodles,” she says, “But these days I sell 20 kilograms, which yields 80 to 100 bowls.”