Located on a busy corner of District 1’s pretty Ham Nghi neighborhood, Nhu Lan Bakery has been famous for its fresh, flavorful bread since it opened in 1972. The bakery’s owner, Nguyen Thi Dau, started her career by selling bread on a small pushcart. By that time, sandwiches had become a popular and convenient snack for city-dwellers. ’s French-style baguettes were the key to the success of the Vietnamese sandwich, or banh mi. The bread was soft, but also firm and often a little salty. It was most commonly served with soup, meat or fish.
But in those days, it was not uncommon to see Saigonese munching on plain bread as well. Dau made her bread less salty than other varieties and her bakery became known for its thicker, spongier insides, and crispier crusts. The flavor hasn’t changed much over the decades, but these days, there’s more meat. Nhu Lan’s sauces aren’t oily and their pâté is delicious and super-fatty. The place is a giant shop, filled with cold cuts and chả lụa (Vietnamese pork sausage).
Apart from the bread, the bakery boasts a variety of other snacks, like cassava steamed with coconut juice and served with sesame salt, a favorite of both locals and foreigners. Nhu Lan’s rice cracker with pork floss has also made a name for itself.
In , for breakfast, those who don’t want bread can also enjoy bún mắm (rice vermicelli with fermented fish broth) and bún riêu (shrimp crab tomato soup with rice vermicelli). Nhu Lan also sells head cheese, roasted duck, roasted chicken with honey, and roasted suckling pig. One can buy the food and open a buffet at home. The bakery also sells sweet desserts such as grilled banana.
In addition, Nhu Lan’s moon cakes have become popular during the Tet Trung Thu (Mid-Autumn Festival) season. The cakes are stuffed with combinations of mung beans, lotus seeds, roasted chicken and fish fin, which are each marinated in different ways.
The moon cake is encased in a thin crust, which not too sweet and merely stimulates the taste buds for what’s to come.
Nhu Lan Bakery also produces many vegetarian cakes as well as low-fat varieties.