10, 20, then nearly 30 years, Mr. Dao Huu The did not expect time to pass so quickly. During all that time, the ink-dried car of the “Hunchback of Notre Dame” has become familiar on Saigon street corners.
“Give me a portion as usual, Mr. The, make it a little spicy today,” the young guest said briefly, then returned to the plastic chair with his group of friends.
Nodding, smiling brightly, Mr. The quickly weighed the dried squid and poured it into the hot oil pan. In his right hand he holds dry roasting chopsticks, in his left hand he holds the handle of the pan, stirring well until the dish becomes fragrant. Sometimes when it’s too hot, he uses a thin towel to temporarily line the handle of the pan and waves his calloused left hand, which is used to fire.
The hot oil in the pan exploded, splashing all over his body. Mr. The still stood calmly stirring the dried squid, not paying any attention.
“This job can only be done with skill. If you don’t, your hands will burn all the time,” he said.
Moments later, a new customer came by and asked for the price. Hearing Mr. The report that dried squid costs 80-160,000 VND/portion, many people stopped.
Understanding the customer’s wishes, the kitchen owner quickly poured the dried food onto a plate and held it out with the decisive words: “Not good, no money!”.
Revenue of more than 10 million VND/night
26 years is the time when Mr. Dao Huu The’s family (51 years old, from Phu Vang, Thua Thien – Hue) has been attached to the dried squid cart selling at night around the Notre Dame Cathedral area (District 1, Ho Chi Minh City).
His body was stooped and his back was hunched, so people called him “the hunchback of Notre Dame” like the character in Victor Hugo’s work.
At first, he was quite uncomfortable being called that. But gradually, Mr. The found the name quite interesting, even though he had never read a page about that work.
Every day, his family begins to make a living when most urban residents have finished work. In the hustle and bustle of people rushing to return home, Mr. The prepared a few kilograms of dried squid and neatly pushed the cart to the point of sale.
At around 6:00 p.m., the dried squid truck lights up to welcome the first diners. From then on until the end of the night, Mr. The was busy without stopping.
3 brand new pans are used alternately, each one produces 2-3 servings of fried dried squid. Every time he completes a round of roasting, the chef washes the pan, puts it on the shelf, and switches to another clean pan. His neat and professional skills and processes make many customers excited and patiently watch.
“Here, people like to eat the most dried squid braised in garlic butter or chili salt. To make the dried squid both crispy and rich, you not only need to calculate the amount of spices but also pay attention to the charcoal and fire to make sure it’s enough.” he shared.
Doing business on the street, Mr. The does not reveal “unwritten” rules, simply doing his job well and always being gentle with others.
According to Mr. The, the challenge for street vendors to make a living at night is wrapped up in the words “don’t be discouraged in the sun and rain, don’t complain about illness.” After many years of getting used to the unpredictable weather, the whole family is always ready to run away from the rain.
Because he had to stand constantly, his hunchback weighed heavily on his front abdomen. Many times the kitchen owner winced and suppressed the pain. Eating irregularly, staying up until dawn every day, stomach disease also tormented Mr. The in his late afternoon.
Working to make a living on the streets requires a lot of time. In fact, Mr. The’s family has never traveled together. The number of trips back to my hometown can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Even on the upcoming anniversary of his mother’s death, he had to think for a long time about whether to return or not.
“Because I love my job so much, I can’t bear to stop working. Even during Tet, after returning home for just a few days, customers kept calling me, urging me to come back soon. Many people even traveled from Hoc Mon and Cu Chi districts to wait for food. . Customers love me so much, I wonder if they can leave me…”, the boss still kept his hand, even while talking.
The old man’s motivation to stay on the street is also the income from street carts. Mr. The said frankly, the money he earns every night is what eases the hardships of the family members. The average nightly revenue of dried squid carts is 7-13 million VND.
“When doing business, you have to accept all conditions, so you can exchange money to feed a family of four. Over the past few decades, my children have grown up, got married, and given birth from this dried squid cart. And came Nowadays, street vendors continue to be a bowl of rice for the children,” Mr. The confided.
After many years of being on the streets, his family never thought about opening a dry shop to ease the hardship. The cart owner decided to continue sticking to the streets, trying to continue his career for a few more years before retiring when his back “alarmed” and gradually weakened.
Thinking likes to be in control, loves freedom
While busy talking, Mr. The accidentally burned a few dry pieces in the pan. Seeing his confusion, the young guest smiled and accepted the plate of ink, without a word of blame or discontent.
Feeling the sympathy of the guests, Mr. The happily told his life story. Growing up in a poor farming family, in arid land, plowing gravel, from a young age, The boy was soon accustomed to going to school in the morning and going out to work with his parents in the evening.
At the age of 13, he was diagnosed with kyphosis, and he was increasingly unable to stand straight. The family was poor and had difficulty finding food three times a day. The Hue child gritted his teeth and endured it, reassured his parents and refused treatment.
Since then, his school days seemed to become “hell” because he had to endure teasing from children his age and discrimination from those around him.
At that time, The thought that if he stayed in the countryside, he would never be able to escape poverty. So, when he was 20 years old, the boy talked to his parents and went to the South alone.
His first job in Ho Chi Minh City was as a worker at a garment factory, where he was fortunate to be accepted by a fellow countryman, providing food, water and accommodation.
Every day in the factory, Mr. The sees work as his source of life. He did all the heavy work like carrying coal and chopping firewood. Seeing that he was hardworking and gentle, all the workers at the factory loved and supported him. Among them, there was a worker from the Central region who fell in love with him.
The girl’s name is Lai, born in Quang Tri, with a gentle and simple personality. Seeing that Mr. The has a special figure, is willing to work hard, whenever there is delicious food, He shares it with him.
“The first time a woman cared about me like that, I felt happy but didn’t dare say anything. My circumstances and appearance were like that, so I didn’t have much hope,” Mr. The recalled.
The feelings between the two blossomed and developed gradually, to the point that all the workers at the factory saw it but no one dared to tell the other. It was the workers with dirty hands and hands who helped build and push the boat so that The and Lai could be together.
Not long after the wedding, the small family welcomed their first child. Even though life is still miserable and not full, Mr. The and his wife always rely on each other and are filled with happiness.
The incident came when Ms. Lai discovered she had liver disease and had to quit her job for treatment. The family’s financial burden made Mr. The exhausted, so he had to leave the garment factory to find another job while taking care of his wife.
With the desire to be his own boss, Mr. The asked his older brother to teach him the job of selling dried squid and then began working on the streets. At that time, there were no motorbikes, so he and his wife pushed the cart from District 4 to Notre Dame Cathedral. His hunchback is a problem when traveling such long distances, but Mr. The feels happy because he can make money.
Selling dried squid for a while, with a little savings, the couple bought machinery to open a small tailoring shop but had to close it early because they didn’t have enough capital. Tried many other unsuccessful items, and by the time he had exhausted all his money, Mr. The determined that it was time to return to the truck and start again.
And the street vendor has been traveling with his small family for nearly 30 years now. More and more customers come. People both love the unique taste of the dried squid braised in butter, garlic, salt and chili that Mr. The makes, and also love his cheerful and simple personality.
“After all these years of making a living on the street, I just hope to be able to buy a small house so my family has a place to return to after a long day of trying to make a living,” the kitchen owner laughed.
The clock struck 0:00, in a small corner in the heart of the city the lights were still on, diners happily ate, drank, and chatted in front of the City Post Office, next to Notre Dame Cathedral.
Amidst the sounds of the streets, the sizzling sound in the pan from Mr. The’s cart is still steady, in harmony with the rhythm of the city’s sleepless night like it has been for the past 26 years.
Photo,Video: Internet (Vinlove.net)