Viet Nam News
SÓC TRĂNG — “What could a bank note of VNĐ1,000 (0.43 cents) buy?” you may wonder as you contemplate an accumulated stack of small money. On a small islet in the Mekong Delta of Sóc Trăng, an eatery offers an answer: meals there priced at VNĐ1,000 not only satisfy customers’ stomachs but also fill their hearts and souls.
Over the last five years, Huỳnh Thị Lil, 58, has run the eatery in Phong Thạnh Village, Phong Nẫm Islet Commune, Kế Sách District with her son and his wife. On more crowded days, some neighbours volunteer to give them a hand.
All day, they serve a variety of vegetarian food, from rice to noodles and congee. A dish costs as little as VNĐ1,000. The income is used to buy food and supplies to cook the next day. Every day, they serve about 80 customers, mostly poor students and people living in the area.
Nguyễn Thị Xuân, a 70-year-old diner at Lil’s eatery, told Tuổi trẻ (Youth) newspaper that Lil isn’t happy when customers try to pay more than VNĐ1,000 for a dish.
“Sometimes, I do not dine out but make a home delivery order instead and pay them VNĐ6,000 to 8,000 for a so-called fuel cost. Some people living near the shop do the same thing to make a bigger contribution,” she said.
Despite living far from Lil’s eatery, on summer days, Nguyễn Hải Đăng, a sixth-grader at Phong Nẫm Secondary School, rides a long way with his friends to eat a cheap and delicious meal. Đăng has a daily stipend of only VNĐ5,000 (21 cents) to eat. But the appeal of Lil’s restaurant is more than the low prices.
“The food is always tasty and sweetened iced tea is free. When she is not busy, Mrs. Hai (Lil’s nickname) gives us good advice on studying and shares with us new ideas about life,” he said.
The idea of setting up an eatery for poor people came after she had recovered from a severe disease. Lil said she just wanted to do something to help others.
“A lot of people still struggle to make ends meet, so we opened the shop with the hope to, somehow, ease the burdens they’re carrying,” she said.
Lil also opens up her home to house a charity traditional medical clinic with the help of doctors in Sóc Trăng Province. Five to 10 patients receive medicines at the clinic every day. On weekends, doctors may perform health check-ups for up to 30 patients.
The clinic’s good reputation also brings patients from other localities here for treatment. They make contributions to the eatery to acknowledge the medical service they receive.
Lil said that she spends from VNĐ4 to 5 million (US$170 – 213) a month buying food for the eatery. Besides patients’ contributions, it is mostly subsidised by wealthy people in the area.
“If there are more diners, we will have to expand the eatery and seek sponsorship. At present, VNĐ1,000 is just enough. As long as people feel happy, we are happy,” she said. — VNS