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Family restaurants prosper for decades in small Saigon alleys

Family restaurants prosper for decades in small Saigon alleys

Tuesday, August 18, 2020, 15:33 GMT+7
Family restaurants prosper for decades in small Saigon alleys
Huynh Hoa Luong is the third-generation owner of Truyen Ky Rice Restaurant in District 10, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Le Van / Tuoi Tre

Two family restaurants in District 10, Ho Chi Minh City have thrived for decades while running only in small alleys of the city. These both belong to Chinese-Vietnamese owners. 

According to Huynh Hoa Luong, the third generation owner of Truyen Ky Rice Restaurant in District 10, their place has been around for nearly 80 years, starting with his grandfather. 

“We are in a small alley, so we have to stick to a time schedule so that neighbors won’t find us annoying,” he said. 

“We start at exactly 5:00 pm and stop servicing at 8:00 pm sharp."

The Chinese-origin restaurant

Luong’s family diner used to serve mainly the Chinese community in Ho Chi Minh City.

They get more customers via word of mouth and still thrive despite the current trend of digital ads and reviews. 

Though a small diner in a tiny alley, the place is always packed with eaters old and new.

They maintain a tough policy. Those who do not make a reservation will not be served, whether they are patrons or first-timers to the place.

This restaurant is located in Alley 39 on Ly Thuong Kiet Street, District 10, Ho Chi Minh City. 

According to its current owner, the alley used to be a gathering spot of the Hakka ethnic people, whose major business was making and fixing leather shoes.

“After the liberation [of southern Vietnam in 1975], many went overseas, so there are only a few Hakka ethnic families left [in Ho Chi Minh City],” said Luong.

“We are one of those.”

From his accounts, the first owner was his grandfather, Diep Huu Truyen, who set up shop here during the French colonial time. 

In his early career, Truyen would prepare peculiar Hakka ethnic foods, all heavily seasoned with salt.

He would push his handmade food cart around the Chinese-populated parts of Saigon, the former name of Ho Chi Minh City, at that time.

Some of the signature dishes that have remained at the restaurant until now are salted steam chicken, crispy fried pig’s intestines, bitter fruits with chilies, and Dong Jiang tofu. 

These are reminiscent of the Hakka ethnic culture. 

With funding gathered over the years, Truyen moved to the current location and opened up a restaurant. 

The sign read ‘Truyen Ky — Rice of Hakka People.’ 

With a surge in the number of eaters, the owner has decided to expand the business by adding a new branch situated in the same alley. 

‘Broke, but not broken’

Located in Alley 434 on Nguyen Tri Phuong Street, District 10 is a family restaurant with a special name – ‘The Poor Kitchen.’

Its name dated back 50 years, when the place served mainly poor laborers in the neighborhood. 

The alley is small, merely three to four meters in width, but the family diner is still popular.

Alley 434 of Nguyen Tri Phuong Street in Ho Chi Minh City is where the Poor Kitchen is located. This family restaurant has been in operation inside the small alley for decades. Photo: Tran Tien Dung / Tuoi Tre

Alley 434 on Nguyen Tri Phuong Street in Ho Chi Minh City is where The Poor Kitchen is located. This family restaurant has been in operation inside the small alley for decades. Photo: Tran Tien Dung / Tuoi Tre

Its first owner was Tang Quang Tuyen, a Chinese Vietnamese. He simply opened up in this alley as a family-run business and refused to hire outsiders. 

Tang Tieu Lan, his daughter and the current owner of the place, said that even in its early days, The Poor Kitchen was already a spot for cyclo drivers, construction workers, small-scale merchants, and business people around the Nhat Tao area in District 10. 

“Vehicles were parked in long lines and eaters were queuing neatly for their turn,” she said. 

“There was a time when my father was basically out of business, but he tried to keep this restaurant afloat and serve the poor people." 

At that time, her father was broke, but his strong will was not broken. 

A correspondent from Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper dropped by The Poor Kitchen one evening, and it was filled with diners. 

There were fewer than ten sets of low, plastic tables and stools laid out in the tight space of the alley. 

Those without an early booking as well as the takeaway customers had to wait. 

One interesting feature of the restaurant is the polite quietness of the diners as they wait for their turn. 

Some of the builders working at nearby construction sites often visit the place for some light dishes before heading home.

They enjoy dishes like sweet-and-sour fried sea-bass and ox balls steamed with herbs. 

“This place is not too spacious, but we like the friendliness and passion of the owner and the other eaters,” said Nguyen Van Trung, a frequent customer. 

“On days when there are too many people, we simply sit closer, like back-to-back partying. And we’ve even made friends that way!”

Tang Tieu Lan cherishes the sympathy from her neighbors. 

“They thought my father was a kind man, so they allowed him to sell here. He always told us to keep things clean and not to bother them,” she added. 

“We open only from 4:30 pm to 8:30 pm. We don’t allow any drunkards, and we never lay out more than ten tables.”

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Tien Bui - Le Van / Tuoi Tre News

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