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Age doesn’t keep this Vietnamese woman from selling the best banana snacks in Saigon

Sunday, May 22, 2022, 11:05 GMT+7
Age doesn’t keep this Vietnamese woman from selling the best banana snacks in Saigon
Nguyen Thi Loi sets up shop near Co.opmart on Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Linh To / Tuoi Tre

Rain or shine, Saigonese can rest assured that Nguyen Thi Loi, a 67-year-old from Ben Tre Province, will be manning her stall outside Co.opmart in District 3, satisfying sweet tooths with her fresh banh chuoi nuong (Vietnamese grilled banana snack).

Loi began hawking banh chuoi nuong on busy street corners in 1977, but illness and old age forced her to permanently park her food cart on the corner of Nguyen Dinh Chieu and Nam Ky Khoi Nghia in District 3 in the late 1990s.

Nguyen Thi Loi grills banh chuoi nuong at her stall near Coopmart Nguyen Dinh Chieu supermarket in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Linh To / Tuoi Tre

Nguyen Thi Loi grills 'banh chuoi nuong' at her stall near Co.opmart Nguyen Dinh Chieu supermarket in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Linh To / Tuoi Tre News

“I've been selling banh chuoi nuong near this supermarket since it opened more than 20 years ago," Loi told Tuoi Tre News.

“Prior to that, when I was still healthy, I would set up my cart near the the Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens in District 1 or other prominent supermarkets.”  

Banh chuoi nuong is a staple snack in Ben Tre Province.

It is prepared by slicing and drying Siamese bananas in the sun until the pieces turn gold. 

Nguyen Thi Loi packages banh chuoi nuong into plastic bag for her customers. Photo: Linh To / Tuoi Tre

Nguyen Thi Loi packages 'banh chuoi nuong' a into plastic bag for her customers. Photo: Linh To / Tuoi Tre News

The slices are then flattened and pressed together into thin, chewy squares. 

Some people choose to eat banh chuoi nuong right after it is pressed, while others prefer it grilled until the outer layer becomes crunchy and the inside remains chewy.

Loi sells her banh chuoi nuong each day from 3:00 pm to 9:00 pm for just VND8,000 (US$0.35) apiece. 

Nguyen Thi Loi packages banh chuoi nuong in a plastic bag for customers after grilling the snacks. Photo: Linh To / Tuoi Tre

Nguyen Thi Loi packages 'banh chuoi nuong' in a plastic bag for customers after grilling the snacks. Photo: Linh To / Tuoi Tre

While rain and bad weather do not stop her from selling the delicious treats, occasionally sickness or supply issues force her to take a day off.

"I buy a few hundred pieces of banh chuoi nuong every few days and bring a few dozen with me each day to grill on-site to create a nice smell,” Loi said.

Nguyen Thi Loi uses a paper fan stoke the charcoal at her stall near Coopmart Nguyen Dinh Chieu supermarket in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Linh To / Tuoi Tre

Nguyen Thi Loi uses a paper fan to stoke the charcoal at her stall near Co.opmart Nguyen Dinh Chieu supermarket in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Linh To / Tuoi Tre

Most of the money Loi makes selling banh chuoi nuong goes toward raising her grandson.

Both of her adult children passed away from cancer, leaving the 67-year-old responsible for their two kids. 

One of her grandchildren returned to her mother’s hometown when COVID-19 hit Vietnam in 2020, leaving Loi caring for the other.

Nguyen Thi Loi grills banh chuoi nuong snack at her stall near Coopmart Nguyen Dinh Chieu supermarket in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Linh To / Tuoi Tre

Nguyen Thi Loi grills 'banh chuoi nuong' snacks at her stall near Co.opmart Nguyen Dinh Chieu supermarket in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Linh To / Tuoi Tre

Nguyen Thi Thuy, an employee at Co.opmart Nguyen Dinh Chieu supermarket, shared that she admires Loi’s hard work.  

“The fact that she raises her grandchild all by herself makes her life more difficult," Thuy said.

"On New Year's Eve, many people visit her stall to purchase her food and offer her presents."

Nguyen Thi Loi’s old charcoal grill. Photo: Linh To / Tuoi Tre

Nguyen Thi Loi’s old charcoal grill. Photo: Linh To / Tuoi Tre

Although Loi sells just a relatively small amount of banh chuoi nuong each day, the quality of what she sells is renowned, with overseas Vietnamese visiting the country buying several dozen pieces to bring home for family and friends.

“There is plenty of competition because there are so many other sweet treats out there, but a lot of people still buy from me because the flavors remind them of their childhood,” said Loi.

Banh chuoi nuong waits to be eaten. Photo: Linh To / Tuoi Tre

'Banh chuoi nuong' wait to be eaten. Photo: Linh To / Tuoi Tre

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Linh To / Tuoi Tre News

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