“Previously, as the 15th of December came, I would then sell “dong” leaves and some ginger here. These days, I am too old to sell anything, yet when Tet come near, I still come here to breath in this atmosphere.”
Markets have always been a window to the soul of a destination. Ambling through a market, one can grasp a pool of knowledge about its local life, how the residents go about & interact in their normal routines. Today, with me, let’s find out the unique features of Vietnamese markets, in each region of this country!
Fresh products as first choice
Despite the modernization policy of the government, and numerous supermarket and modern grocery stores, most of Vietnamese mothers and grandmothers still go to the markets for daily fresh produce. We have always favoured freshness, and have the habit to go shopping everyday to prepare meals for our beloved ones. My mom through really loves to shopping in mall, yet often complains about the freshness of seafood in there, and will always buy daily fresh produce in the little local market that is in walking distance to my house.
Motorbike rumpling is like a signature of Vietnam. People opt for street side market (Chợ Cóc) as it much quicker. Rather than parking motorbike in supermarket basement, they can park motorbike on the streetside, or even still sit on your bike while haggling for food. Such convenience and quickness anchors mothers and aunts to stick to this tradition.
Crowded yet cosy atmosphere
Market in Vietnam is not only a place for exchange of goods, but also a destination for meet and greet, bonding and exchange information. It is also usually a crowded, a bit messy, noisy yet warm scene. Greetings as if market goers are all acquaintance, It is easy to catch this scene: Totally strangers lightly pull each other’s clothes asking: “Where did you buy such a nice bunch of banana? or How much does that chicken cost?“. That is the information hub for the community before social networking sites comes and will be ever so in countryside villages.
A grandma I met on the Buoi Street when Tet is coming near told me that: “Previously, as the 15th of December came, I would then sell “dong” leaves (the cover leaf for our traditional cake in the Tet holiday) and some ginger here. These days, I am too old to sell anything, yet when Tet come near, I still come here to breath in this atmosphere.” That warm atmosphere is still apparent in the market, yet it is now a mixture of fast pace and the old cozy life.”
Sellers having better math skills than everyone else
The work of a seller in these markets require really quick mental calculation. Without any computers & calculator on hand, while customers comes and go quickly, some demanding one always rush sell to be at their quickest, seller’s brain has been trained to a great mental calculator. Asking a middle-aged street food vendor how much my “bánh xèo” cost, I am amazed at her speed of calculating and footing-the-bill rap.
Even for Vietnamese, one can hardly count how many types of markets are there or how many markets in their own province. Market in one place is a total difference from one in other of different topography. From delta, midlands and mountainous region of the North, to the beach and port city, central highlands to the swarms of Mekong delta, each local market of every place will possess their breath of life, and unique characteristic related to its history and spiritual life of people in that region. Below are some types of distinctly Vietnamese markets and how to explore the best of them
Big markets are like the trading hub of the regions. Wholesale markets of nearly everything can be found here, with numerous sessions for each type of goods as raw ingredients area, vegetables area, street food area, clothing and pet area starting as early as 2:00 am. Take a stroll through one market, a tourist can experience the lives of local population, purchase (and bargain for) souvenirs, fabrics, flowers, etc at wholesale price.
Smaller markets (chợ cóc) mostly offer fresh foods, fruits, vegetables and other ingredients for meals. People here do not go shopping in supermarkets & pack their food for one week, they would not mind the walk to the small market in the very next alleys to buy ingredients for lunch and dinner.
Fair markets in Northern Vietnam
Fair market is occasionally held on some fixed days of a month or year. It can be a market for local handicrafts for artisan to sell their products like fishing tools or conical cones. It can be an ethnic market to exchange their local products or a love market, where ethnic people go to see and enjoy the culture practice rather than to exchange goods.
Floating market in Mekong Delta
Due to the complex river and canal system of Mekong delta, boat and sampans are the main means of transport in this area. Local dealers in fruits and veggie will sail to orchards to pick up these product, then continue to the floating market to sell them. Other boats act like stores that sell almost everything, from grocer to household essentials, will stop by each household to refill what is needed.
On floating market, you can not only find boat selling foodstuffs but also floating bars, floating restaurants, floating gas stations and other floating shops. Having your breakfast on a floating hu tieu (southern noodle) store is something too special to be missed.
Tips when buying stuffs in Vietnam
- Bargaining & negotiating the price is welcome, yet be respectful and polite as you do.
- Avoid scam by fixing the price before paying
- Stay calm and wise to avoid any unnecessary conflict with one or two annoying sellers