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Authentic breakfast lessons on posh Saigon row

(No.4, Vol.3, May 2013 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

On Le Thanh Ton Street in Ho Chi Minh City is a restaurant row. The cuisines of China, Japan, Korea, India and Italy can be savoured. ‘Thu Hien’ a family run chicken noodle restaurant survives among this fierce competition. Here I took my father and younger brother on holiday in Vietnam to meet some local friends. I wanted them to meet Vietnamese friends and enjoy local food.
So five of us gathered at just before 9 a.m at a late breakfast. I and my class, which starts at 6.15, had certainly whetted up an appetite. My students, aged around forty, are Mr Hai and Mr Trieu, businessmen who run software companies and Dr.Huy who works at a leprosy hospital. It is a good opportunity for them to practice English. Dad, who is nearing his ninetieth birthday, has come along for the conversation only because he does not eat chicken.
We all ordered Pho Ga and coffee. Dad likes white coffee. I explained that in Vietnam he would not be getting fresh milk but condensed. Nevertheless, a bemused look came over his face as got his first taste of the sweet ‘ca phe sua’! The chicken pieces were tender and the broth pleasing. Mr Hai, who used to eat here regularly when he worked opposite, added his approval.
We sat, three Englishmen facing three Vietnamese, like in a language class doing pair work. My students were amazed at Dad, who is totally mobile and mentally alert. He lives alone and still drives a car. ‘There is no-one in like you in Vietnam,’ exclaims Mr Hai, adding, ‘I look at you and hope that I can still be active fifty years from now.’
What is the secret of success of this place? Firstly, hard work. District one rent is expensive. You need to work all day to pay the overheads, then keep open in the evening to get into profit. Secondly, they have found a market niche. This street has plenty of Vietnamese working in it. Many want to sit to eat and will pay more than they would pavement vendors. The idea is simple; just chicken meals.They buy in bulk and pass on the savings. Finally, they make you feel part of the family.
So, Dad and brother had their holiday enriched by meeting interesting locals. My students got conversation practice and friendships were forged. Thu Hien provided our energy boost for the day ahead of them. Long live the great Vietnamese breakfast!

Thu Hien Restaurant
15/9 Le Thanh Ton St, D. 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Tel: (08) 6682-0578

By Pip de Rouvray
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