Viet Nam News
HÀ NỘI — It is easy to miss out on Trần Thị Kim Oanh’s bún bò Huế (Huế-style beef noodle soup) stall, sandwiched as it is between very similar looking buildings on a newly-opened street in Hà Nội.
The 10sq.m eatery has a few sets of wooden tables and chairs, and its walls pay tribute to street life in the capital city with high-quality, enlarged and framed photographs of street traders.
Over two years now, the eatery has been famous for its charity programme “Thứ sáu sẻ chia” (Sharing Fridays), under which low-income workers can enjoy bowls of bún bò Huế for just VNĐ1,000 (4 US cents) each. This offer has been good on the first Friday of every month since June 2015.
Back in 2015, Oanh was a member of a group that cooked porridge to serve poor patients at the National K2 Cancer Hospital on the southern outskirts of the city.
She found herself exhausted from the long-distance travel, and having run a bún bò Huế eatery since 2013, Oanh decided to take advantage of her culinary skills and experience to start the Friday charity programme.
“I wanted something of my own, and set out to sell 150 bowls of bún to low-income people per charity day,” she said.
Her ‘Good Friday’ customers are street-traders, scrap dealers, construction workers and other manual labourers, some of whom are those who’ve come from other localities for medical treatments in the capital city.
Being sold at a super low price does not make Oanh’s bún bò Huế any less appetizing. There is no difference between ones made for charity and those she sells to regular customers at VNĐ35,000 ($1.5) each.
Each bowl is filled with bún (rice noodles), beef slices, a móng giò (pigs feet roll), and two slices tiết canh (blood-pudding).
Frail and gray-haired, Đỗ Hồng Ngọc of Đống Đa District, walked with difficulty steps towards the eatery. She lingered until Oanh called out, “Hey...” and motioned for her to come closer, gave her a small blue, number tag and invited her to take a seat.
Having suffering from heart failure for nearly a decade, Hồng trembled every time she tried to take a spoon of soup.
“I’ve just been through a VNĐ200 million ($8,800) stent placement surgery,” she said. “I’m a disabled person now, living off the State’s allowance of VNĐ1 million ($44) per month.”
Her illness requires constant checkups and tests, and the monthly cost of medicine alone is already some VNĐ2 million ($88).
“I’ve never thought of spending several thousand đồng on breakfast. Oanh’s charity programme is such a heart-warming gesture,” she said.
Phạm Thị Lành, a scrap dealer from Nam Định Province who was having breakfast a table a way from Hồng’s, said she was “too shy to try” the first time she saw Oanh’s charity sign.
“Then she heartily called out to me and invited me over. She was so warm and kind-hearted.
“Now I feel more comfortable enjoying the bún bò Huế here.”
Lê Thị Hoa, a customer, said she was touched on seeing poor people getting full, hot bowls of delicious bún at the eatery.
“My husband and I often order four bowls of bún or phở in a row when taking our children out for breakfast at weekends,” she said. “It’s kind of sad to see that what is common for us is a huge treat for someone else.”
Not everyone is happy with or appreciative of Oanh’s gesture.
Some have said she does it as a promotional activity for the eatery.
Oanh’s feathers are not ruffled.
“They don’t know that those low-income people never show up on regular days when the bún is sold at the regular price,” she said. “Who am I promoting it to, then?”
Sometimes, some low-income people make a mistake and show up on the second Friday of the month instead of the first, but Oanh is still happy to let them enjoy the VNĐ1,000 bowls of bún.
“I think it is important to live in a way that gives blessings to our children and grandchildren,” she said, pointing at photographs of her two sons on the wall. The older one is getting a Ph.D at the Việt Nam Academy of Social Science, and the younger is an MC for Việt Nam Television.
“There were times when the charity day was very close and I was almost broke,” she added. “But then on Thursdays we would get many customers and make enough money for charity.
“I don’t know if it was a sign from above. Now I find no difficulty in maintaining the charity. Only a little extra effort, and a few more kilograms of beef and bún.
“I will do it as long as I am able to run the eatery.”— VNS