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lunch lady brian woo

Interview: Vietnam's 'The Lunch Lady' on Co Thanh

'I'd love to open a restaurant anywhere in the world and share my food and Vietnamese cuisine with everyone'

Written by
Holly Graham

Nguyen Thi Thành (aka The Lunch Lady), opened her food stall in Ho Chi Minh City in 1995, serving a rotation of noodle soups. At 6am every day, she hits the local markets to pick out the freshest ingredients to create 300 bowls of noodle soup that usually sell out by 1pm. Despite global fame, she continues to enjoy every moment of operating her business the same way since inception.

Her one and only apprentice, Brian Woo, recently opened Co Thanh in Hong Kong. We chat to The Lunch Lady herself to find out more about the woman who inspired Hong Kong’s newest Vietnamese restaurant.

How did things change after Anthony Bourdain featured you on No Reservations?
My food stall always had a large local following prior to the airing of the show. Every day prior, I had customers that worked in the nearby offices line up for my soups. Since the show, I've had an influx of tourist and expat customers, too. But of course, the local community still visits me.

How does the food at Co Thanh in Hong Kong differ to your stall in Ho Chi Minh City?
Other than the noodle soups that I serve, Brian will be serving some other Vietnamese dishes like banh mi, spring rolls and rotating daily specials.

What foods are you looking forward to trying when you visit Hong Kong?
I've heard so much about Hong Kong's dim sum. It’s definitely a must try!

How did Co Thanh come to life?
Brian is my one and only apprentice. After training with me for three years, he proposed the idea as he’s been in the restaurant business in Hong Kong before and I loved the idea. Co Thanh is named after me, directly translating to ‘Madame Thanh’.

Where else in the world would you like to open a restaurant?
Anywhere! I'd love to be able to share my food and Vietnamese cuisine with the world, but we're excited to have been listed by Anthony Bourdain as one of his top ten wish list for his Bourdain Market development in New York City. Hopefully, it will come to fruition.

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