The bustling food markets of Ho Chi Minh City (“HCMC”) show how the Vietnamese way of shopping for fresh produce differs to that of some more developed nations.
While Vietnam certainly does have supermarkets (I found a very nice, modern big one in Ho Chi Minh City), they are not as common as they are in other parts of the world and, when it comes to fresh produce, it seems that outdoor street and covered markets are the way people like to get what they need.
In various parts of HCMC, several streets have their sidewalk space completely taken up by street vendors selling fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and other perishable foodstuffs in the morning. Mixed in amongst this are the usual vendors selling street food to eat then and there, which makes for a very vibrant, bustling atmosphere. People are not only doing their shopping – they are also hanging out and socialising. The are below in particular is actually quite residential behind all of the store-fronts at street level.
Meat being sold out in the open in hot and humid conditions is something that’s certainly not a common sight for a westerner. The immediate reaction is to think about how unsafe it is, but I suppose if it’s being cooked that day it’s fine. People are certainly eating it all of the time without falling ill.
The seafood is extremely fresh. A lot of it is still alive while it’s out on display.
The variety and quality of fresh produce available is very good. Some of the vendors, such as the one below, take up a surprisingly large amount of space.
Not only are the markets set up on the sidewalks, but there are a number of semi-covered markets set up on blocks of land bordered by several streets.
A different definition of “drive through” food.
In many of the indoor fish and meat markets, the tables are so close together that the vendors sit on the tables, surrounded by their produce, leaning over to assist the customers below.
Another option for buying fresh fruit and vegetables (and seafood at times) is that of the mobile vendor. Attached to the back of a scooter will be a tray or crate full of generally one item. In the case of the man below, he was selling rambutans. My wife and I bought a half kilogram bunch from him. The cost? About 25 US cents. Despite the fact that it was pouring down with rain, both vendors and customers didn’t seem to be that dissuaded from engaging in commerce.
When at home, I love shopping at independent markets and stores for my fresh produce. Not only do I find not only the quality of the produce to be better, but in many cases it is cheaper too. Added to that I ideologically believe in supporting independent businesses where possible.
Unfortunately in the western world, for various reasons, markets make up only a small portion of the fresh produce retail sector.
I love how abundant and popular fresh food markets are in Vietnam, and how as well as being about commerce, they also play an important role in the community. People hang out and socialise, the vibe is great, and you can really feel their importance.
As Vietnam continues to develop, it is inevitable that some of this will be lost. I can only hope that it’s not too much because it really is something special.