Nu Cuoi charity eatery chain in Ho Chi Minh City is known for serving lunch for less than 10 US cents, but there are some days even happier when it charges half that price for a bottomless bowl of pho.
The chain serves Vietnam’s popular noodle soup on one Thursday every month for VND1,000 (nearly 5 cents).
Poor diners have dubbed the day “Happy Thursday” when they can afford a dish they generally cannot afford.
A bowl of pho noodle soup with beef or chicken usually costs around 35,000-50,000, or more than $1-2, in the city.
It can be breakfast for someone with a proper job but is a luxury for rag pickers, street vendors and xe om drivers.
Nguyen Thi Phuong, a migrant who sells snacks on Pham Ngu Lao Street, said she cannot afford pho on the VND100,000 a day she makes.
“If I spend half of it on a bowl of pho, my five children back home will have little to eat.”
People have noodle soup at Nu Cuoi charity restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Thanh Nien
Phuong said she had never before tried a bowl of pho in the past 27 years since she arrived in the city. A notice in front of Nu Cuoi says "Anyone can eat" the noodle soup.
Phuong said, “Saigon has many charity eateries serving rice, but one with pho is rare. I’m so happy.”
Hoang Xuan Hong, a poor old man living in District 5, said he can have three bowls each time.
“It’s very tasty, even tastier when I can feel the love in there.”
Kieu Van, the manager of the eatery chain on Cong Quynh Street, District 1, said a foreign charity group suggested the idea and has been funding the cooking.
“They said there should be something new and tasty for the poor.”
It also replaces pho with other noodle soups such as bun bo Hue, the Hue noodle soup known for its orange spicy lemongrass broth, and hu tieu, the soup with transparent and chewy noodles.
Van said the eatery charges 10 percent of the actual cost thanks to donations.
Retired journalists opened Nu Cuoi in 2012 and they have managed to keep it true to its name, which means smile.
Despite some financial hiccups, they have expanded to have five outlets in districts 1, Tan Phu, and Thu Duc.