The Lunch Lady's Vietnamese noodle recipe finally in Hong Kong

by: Angie Kwon
06 Jul 2017

Street food lovers might recognise the nickname “The Lunch Lady” (Thi Thanh), a lady in Saigon who has charmed locals for years with her amazing noodle soups that earned her the title. Local and International fans may recognise her after her appearance on Anthony Bourdain’s show No Reservations. 

From this summer on, Hongkongers can experience those legendary noodle soups right here in the heart of Central. Brian Woo, The Lunch Lady’s only pupil is bringing her recipes to Hong Kong with his new restaurant Cô Thành. And no, these noodles aren’t the same old pho with different toppings, actually, they don’t serve pho at all.

Needless to say, we were totally hyped to try the whole menu. At first glance, we could tell that the interior was specially designed to recreate the Saigon/Ho Chi Minh experience (or as a replica of The Lunch Lady’s original shop): the plastic stools, the metal tables, the “banh mi cart”, the grey walls and the white purposely-faded shop sign reminiscent of the ubiquitous shop signs found in Vietnam.We started out with the Vietnamese coffee, as sour as it was authentic, we finished the whole thing before our meals came. Then came the chả giò served on a bed of lettuce. Wrapping the lettuce around the spring roll, we dipped and double-dipped into the sauce before demolishing them. It was heavenly as most chả giò goes, but we would have preferred a stronger fish taste in our dipping sauce.  The bánh mì came next. The bread was perfectly crispy and not too dense. The pickled onions and carrots were incredibly juicy and the pâté was an absolute delight. The bánh mì was jam packed (they don't skimp!) and the cold cuts are less cartilage-y than other places in Hong Kong. For those who prefer their bánh mì with a stronger pickle & pate taste and less cartilege in their cold cuts (like me), Cô Thành’s version is a definite go-to.  The menu is relatively simple. We tried two of the Lunch Lady's best noodle bowls: bún mắm and the bún bò huế. We started with the bún mắm made with three kinds of preserved fish & shrimp. The stock had a very strong (and very sweet) fishy flavour. The noodles are round & thick. It comes with toppings of okra, pineapple, squid rings, pork belly, three pieces of shrimp and an assortment of vegetables. Although they were cooked just right, a thinner noodle may have suited this very thin & light seafood-based broth a little more.  The bún bò huế is an absolute winner. The broth is an addictive balance of umami and lightness. Rich with satay flavour without the heavy aftertaste, the broth was further enhanced by the tender cuts of meat and perfectly suited round noodles. With toppings of beef balls (bo vien), garlic, fried onions, basil, Vietnamese ham (cha hue), and amazing cuts of beef, it’s one of those noodle soups you can get lost into. You don’t stop to chat until you see the bottom of the bowl. Mix the basil in thoroughly and savour that light refreshing umami. Overall Cô Thành is a strong new contender in the already competitive noodle soup scene in Hong Kong. What is clear is the freshness of the ingredients used in each dish. Everything from the pâté, the sausages, the handmade noodles to the bánh mì bread is made in-house. A crave-worthy spot for those looking for a heartwarming energising bowl on a rainy day.