Nguyen Thi Thanh (The Lunch Lady)
For 13 years, Monday through Saturday, the Lunch Lady has set up shop on a patch of pavement on Hoang Sa Street near the zoo—working from 11 a.m. until she runs out of food, which happens quickly. Office workers, schoolkids, and lazy housewives queue up for whatever Lunch Lady is serving that day: usually noodles of some sort, invariably delicious. Wednesdays she often cooks up a knockout hu tieu, a Southern noodle soup laden with roasted sliced pork, prawns, peanuts, and soft-cooked quail eggs; the smoky broth is flavored with shallots and dried squid. It’s a family affair: from an adjacent stand, Lunch Lady’s cousin sells goi cuon, fresh summer rolls filled with sweet shrimp.