A street food stall owned by 80-year-old Nguyen Thi Thanh has been a fixture on a cozy corner near Thanh Cong Middle School in Hanoi for the past 20 years.
Although the cart is equipped with just two gas stoves and some plastic chairs, it manages to attract dozens of customers each day.
Thanh is a white-haired lady who is quite well known amongst the local student body.
“I have experience in selling food such as rice congee, Vietnamese rice, and noodles. Every dish is gobbled up by the consumers, probably because I’m a little handier than other people,” Thanh shared.
Thanh’s menu is simple: ‘nem chua ran’ (fried fermented pork rolls), shrimp balls with cheese, and fried shrimp and fish balls.
According to Thanh, learning how to properly fry pork rolls was a learning curve and the meat would often stick together and splash oil on her hands.
“For months, I only sold 50-100 rolls a day. They were very cheap back then, only VND1,000 [$0.043] each so the profit was not much,” the old lady said.
Now, Thanh sells about 350 to 400 rolls a day. On her best-selling days, she can sell up to 500 rolls.
|A pan of fried fermented pork rolls at the street food stall of Nguyen Thi Thanh, 80, near Thanh Cong Middle School in Hanoi. Photo: Hong Tham / Tuoi Tre|
“Some of my customers were middle school students when they first ate at my stall, and they still do even after they have [grown up and] gotten married or returned from study abroad,” Thanh happily said.
“Some customers even bring their children."
It is not only the delicious food but also Thanh’s cheerful attitude that has made diners fall in love with the street food stall.
“Her skinny hands and hunched back remind me of my grandmother. It makes me feel very close to her. Her memory is very good. She can remember who comes first and always makes sure to arrange the food properly,” Lan, a regular customer of the stall, shared.
“Despite having to wait a long time because of a large number of customers, the cheerfulness and friendliness of the old lady make everyone willing to spend some time waiting to eat pork rolls after school."
Thanh confided that she still remembers the face of every student who visits her stall, even though she does not often remember their names.
To Thanh, it is all about creating a family atmosphere. She considers each guest a child or grandchild.
“I will only be able to run the stall for one or two more years. After that, I will pass the job on to my children and grandchildren and retire,” Thanh said.
|Nguyen Thi Thanh, 80, owner of a street food stall near Thanh Cong Middle School in Hanoi, prepares food for customers. Photo: Hong Tham / Tuoi Tre|
|A large number of customers visit the street food stall of Nguyen Thi Thanh, 80, near Thanh Cong Middle School in Hanoi. Photo: Hong Tham / Tuoi Tre|
|A group of friends enjoy their food at the street food stall of Nguyen Thi Thanh, 80, near Thanh Cong Middle School in Hanoi. Photo: Hong Tham / Tuoi Tre|