Archive for the 'Markets' Category

Scenes: Central and Old Markets

Since we only had one and a half days to explore Phnom Penh, our traveling crew stuck to the highlights. Central Market is painted a vibrant golden yellow, spacious, and has incredibly high ceilings. There are vendors housed both inside and outside market—clothing and accessories were sold inside, while produce and prepared foods were sold outside. We arrived at the market during naptime, so many of the vendors were zonked out.

Whereas Saigon’s Ben Thanh Market is noisy, bustling, and somewhat maddening (especially with all the vendors trying to hawk their goods), Central Market is organized and calmer. However, the selection at Central Market is less diverse.

Disinterested in knock-off clothing and accessories, we mostly explored the food-related vendors outside. Here is a basket of fresh green peppercorns! A little too strong to be eaten alone, but paired with the right items, say banh trang phoi suong, they really pack a lot of punch.

The Astronomer has a weakness for baked goods, so we picked up one of these sweet buns to share. I tried my best to extract the Khmer name from the vendor, but couldn’t quite pick it up. Language barriers stink. I guess the name sweet buns will have to suffice. Wrapped in red tissue paper, the sweet bun tasted like a cross between Jiffy cornbread and steamed pork buns minus the pork (banh bao). The sweet bun was fluffy, but one-dimensional in flavor. Definitely good for carbo-loading.

A posting about markets just wouldn’t be a posting about markets without some proper carcasses! Here are some dead chickens with really dirty feet.

Some Khmer men perusing the fresh seafood selection.

I was thrilled to see fresh baby corn because I have only encountered the canned stuff previously. I wanted to pop one in my mouth, but Central Market isn’t an East Bay farmer’s market where everything is game.

The gate leading to Old Market. Old Market has a few produce vendors, but the majority of the stalls offered hair care services, like shampooing and hair straightening. We did not stay here for long because our coifs were already in tip-top shape.

Rotisserie chicken! Beautiful chickens roasting over hot coals.

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Scenes: Costco

On the one hand, I adore Costco. And on the other, it grosses me out.

There’s a store called Metro in Saigon that’s supposed to be the Costco of Vietnam. I wonder if they have as many free samples. Maybe one of these days I’ll borrow someone’s membership card and check the place out.

Scenes: Duong Dong Market

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Open-air and indoor markets are the heart of the Vietnamese community. Due to the minimal use of refrigeration in the country, residents go to the market nearly everyday to buy fresh produce, tofu, pork, seafood and noodles. Every time I travel to a new city, I always make a point to visit the markets for fruits and people watching.

Duong Dong Market in Phu Quoc is unpaved and packed with vendors on both sides of the narrow and dusty thoroughfare. Produce vendors dominate the scene, but there are a healthy number of non-produce goods as well.

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The vendor in the foreground is selling ingredients for che, the vendor in the center is selling fried up slices of banh tet (a cylindrical version of banh chung), and the vendor in the background is selling jackfruit.

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Even though these preserved mustard greens (cai chua) are inches away from the grimy street, they still look pretty darn tasty to me. My grandma makes her own preserved mustard greens, but not in bulk like these! I think this sour vegetable tastes best kho‘d with fried tofu and chili flakes.

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Cha gio, greens, bun, nuoc cham… there’s only one thing this woman could be selling—bun cha gio! At 5,000 VND a bowl, The Astronomer just had to have one.

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This little piggy went to the market, but he didn’t really have a say in the matter. The Astronomer and I were surprised by how close the vendors worked next to all of these bloody carcases. Even though it makes me a little uncomfortable seeing a dead pig’s head, I think that the meat counters at grocery stores in America should display them because our society is too far removed from our food source.

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Ingredients for some refreshing che—grass jelly and coconut jelly (I think!).

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And lastly, a woman serving up banh mi nem nuong or barbecued meat ball sandwiches.

Scenes: Mekong Delta

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The Astronomer and I played hooky two Fridays ago to visit the Mekong Delta. We traveled with a tour group (Sinh Cafe) because the southern part of Vietnam isn’t as accessible as the larger cities. For a measly eighteen bucks, we enjoyed a two-day, one-night excursion and a souvenir t-shirt.

We began our tour at 8 AM at the Sinh Cafe office in Saigon. We arrived in the Mekong two and a half hours later and boarded a boat to see the Cai Be floating market. Unfortunately, it was quite late by Vietnam standards and most of the buying and selling action had died down.

The second stop on the tour was at the Thanh Phong candy “factory” where we saw coconut candy, rice paper and rice crispy treats being made. The coconut candy tasted like dulce de leche with only a hint of coconut, while the rice crispy treats reminded me of Kashi puffed cereal. We were told that the rice paper would be used to make egg rolls.

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After the factory tour, we boarded the boat to explore the delta a bit more and then headed to lunch. Lunch was included in the package and consisted of soup, rice, pork chops, egg rolls, and some veggies. I ate way too many sweets during the candy tour, so I gave my chop and rice to my hungry traveling companion. The soup was a simple vegetable and pasta combination that seems to be a Mekong Delta specialty.

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Course I: vegetable and pasta soup

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Course II: pork chops with rice, vegetables and egg rolls

Toward the end of lunch, a three-piece Vietnamese band performed songs using traditional instruments. I really liked how the singers contorted their voices for the Cải Lương numbers.

Post-lunch we hopped on the boat once more to further explore the Delta. The surroundings were beautiful and peaceful. After an hour or so, the boat dropped us off in the city of Vinh Long where we boarded a bus that took us to the city of Can Tho via ferry.

For dinner, The Astronomer and I ditched the tour group and sought out some good ‘ol street food. Can Tho is the largest city in the southern portion of the country, but sadly doesn’t have a large selection of street eats. We stopped for a bite at a stall selling bun mang on Tran Viet Chau Street.

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The damp Mekong air put us in the mood for a hot bowl of duck noodle soup.

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Duck Noodle Soup (10,000 VND)

The bun mang really hit the spot; I especially enjoyed dipping the duck in the ginger fish sauce. The Astronomer drowned his blood Jello in the ginger fish sauce to make it more palatable—whatever floats your boat. After dinner we went to the hotel and crashed.

Day two of the tour began bright and early. The hotel buzzed our room at 6:30 AM and we departed to see the Cai Rang floating market at 7:30 AM. The market is mainly for wholesalers rather than regular folks, so we didn’t make any purchases. The large pole on each boat signifies what the boat is selling.

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After a three-hour tour of the markets and surrounding areas, we arrived at a fruit orchard to relax. There were many hammocks set up along the shady trees, which The Astronomer really dug. We also enjoyed some fresh fruits.

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The penultimate stop on the Mekong Delta tour was at a rice husking factory. As a proponent of whole-grains and fiber, I must admit that I was saddened by this whole affair. We saw a huge machine that essentially stripped the nutrients from the rice—how depressing.

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Before busing back to Saigon, the tour stopped at a restaurant in Can Tho for lunch. The prices were high and the portions were small. Double whammy. Time constraints made it impossible to ditch the group during this meal. The Astronomer ordered the beef and fries, while I had some frog!

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Beef and fries with baguette (30,000 VND)

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Frog sauteed with onions, glass noodles, and mushrooms (30,000 VND)

This was my first encounter with frog, which I thought tasted like a cross between chicken and fish. Ribbit! My mom says that I should eat a lot of frog in Vietnam because American frozen frog just isn’t as good. Yes, ma’am.