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Septuagenarian's sweet dessert stall a nostalgic, nightly fixture on Saigon sidewalk

Tuesday, September 22, 2020, 22:08 GMT+7
Septuagenarian's sweet dessert stall a nostalgic, nightly fixture on Saigon sidewalk
Sau serves take-away 'chè,' a Vietnamese sweet dessert, from a pot placed next to an oil lamp at her stall in Phu Nhuan District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

A stall selling different kinds of chè, a Vietnamese sweet dessert, has been open on a Ho Chi Minh City sidewalk for nearly a century to satisfy the cravings of people with a sweet tooth.

Sau’s stall has been known as the ‘oil lamp chè stall’ since it has been recognized with an oil lamp lit up next to five pots of sweet soups placed on a small table. 

The owner, 77 now, started her business 45 years ago when the city had not yet installed electric street lights.

To run her stall at night then, Sau lit up an oil lamp and has kept that practice up until now.

“It was very dark so I lit up an oil lamp for lighting,” Sau recalled the time she first ran her dessert stall.

“Customers have eventually become familiar with the name of ‘oil lamp chè stall’."

Locals are familiar with seeing the septuagenarian pushing her cart to her usual spot on the sidewalk of Nguyen Kiem Street in Phu Nhuan District every night at 7:30 pm.

Nguyen Thi Kieu My, 24, fell in love with the flavors at Sau’s stall after a friend took her there three years ago.

“The price is also cheap, only VND5,000 [US$0.22] a bowl, so I became a regular customer here,” My said while sitting on a small plastic stool, adding she felt close to Sau like a grandmother. 

“The smell of oil lamp blended with chè scent in the middle of the night creates a very unique feature for the stall."

Every night at 7:30 pm, Sau packs her stuff to begin a night of selling 'chè' (a Vietnamese sweet dessert) at an oil lamp-lit stall in Phu Nhuan District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

Every night at 7:30 pm, Sau packs her stuff to begin a night of selling 'chè', a Vietnamese sweet dessert, at an oil lamp-lit stall in Phu Nhuan District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

Sau, 77, pushes her cart of 'chè' (a Vietnamese sweet dessert) on a street in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

Sau, 77, pushes her cart of 'chè' on a street in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

Sau’s stall is made up of a small table serving five pots of 'chè' (a Vietnamese sweet dessert) and a pot of coconut milk surrounded by small plastic stools. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

Sau’s stall is made up of a small table serving five pots of 'chè' and a pot of coconut milk surrounded by small plastic stools. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

Sau said she suffers from chronic back pain, but the joy of running her nightly stall selling 'chè' (a Vietnamese sweet dessert) helps her overcome the pain. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

Sau says she suffers from chronic back pain, but the joy of running her nightly stall selling 'chè' helps her overcome the pain. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

A customer buys Sau’s 'chè' (a Vietnamese sweet dessert) in a take-away container. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

A customer buys Sau’s 'chè' as a take-away portion. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

Sau’s chè (a Vietnamese sweet dessert) stall not only attracts young people but also older customers. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

Sau’s chè stall not only attracts young people but also older customers. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

A group of regular customers chat as they enjoy 'chè' (a Vietnamese sweet dessert) at Sau's stall in Phu Nhuan District, Ho Chi Minh City. They said they love the open space while the oil lamp brings a feeling of nostalgia. Photo: Ngoc Phuong/ Tuoi Tre

A group of regular customers chat as they enjoy 'chè' at Sau's stall in Phu Nhuan District, Ho Chi Minh City. They say they love the open space while the oil lamp brings a feeling of nostalgia. Photo: Ngoc Phuong/ Tuoi Tre

Nguyen Thi Kieu My (right), 24, has become a regular customer of Sau's 'chè' (a Vietnamese sweet dessert) stall for the past three years. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

Nguyen Thi Kieu My (right), 24, has become a regular customer of Sau's 'chè' stall for the past three years. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

Two customers take photos of their bowls of 'chè' (a Vietnamese sweet dessert) at Sau’s stall in Phu Nhuan District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

Two customers take photos of their bowls of 'chè' at Sau’s stall in Phu Nhuan District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

A group of regular customers chat as they enjoy 'chè' (a Vietnamese sweet dessert) at Sau's stall in Phu Nhuan District, Ho Chi Minh City. They said they love the open space while the oil lamp brings a feeling of nostalgia. Photo: Ngoc Phuong/ Tuoi Tre

A group of regular customers chat as they enjoy 'chè' at Sau's stall in Phu Nhuan District, Ho Chi Minh City. They say they love the open space while the oil lamp brings a feeling of nostalgia. Photo: Ngoc Phuong/ Tuoi Tre

Sau’s 'chè' (a Vietnamese sweet dessert) stall is seen on the sidewalk of Nguyen Kiem Street in Ho Chi Minh City’s Phu Nhuan District. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

Sau’s 'chè' stall is seen on the sidewalk of Nguyen Kiem Street in Ho Chi Minh City’s Phu Nhuan District. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

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