Nguyen Thi Kiem is probably the most famous street food vendor in Saigon.
There’s probably more ink on her than any other cook in the country, and rightly so. Her sticky rice (infused with boiled peanuts, corn or mung bean paste) may be the most perfect beginning I’ve ever eaten—a delicious, carbohydrate grenade that energizes the palate and the body.
Imagine a bowl of beautiful Irish oatmeal elevated not by milk and butter, but a rich mung bean paste and elegant fried shallots. Like all good Vietnamese food (and all good oatmeal) it walks a pencil-thin line between salty and sweet.
Her fame and location allows her to charge a whopping 75 cents per serving.
During a recent visit, Kiem was gone. According to her daughter, who will take over her mother’s business at the base of an electrical box on Le Tan Ton, she’s very sick.
Food like this is dying, fast. It’s only hope is a downward plunge in the economy or some sort of visionary—someone who can provide a home for a cook like Kiem without corrupting the integrity of her product.
This seems like an impossibility or a lie on the order of “sustainable development.”