TO MARKET, TO MARKET: FOOD SHOPPING ALONG THE MEKONG RIVER

On every face in the market
the dust of the city
is etched in summer heat.
Behind the stands
the wrinkled old women
know many things:
The ripeness of fruit,
the weight of eggs.
Their baskets measure time
both bought and sold,
woven and rewoven
in the language of trade.
 -Jan Olsen, “By The Wind” Hunter Star Publications, 1990, Seattle, WA.

Vietnam provides not only a cornucopia of fresh fish, vegetables, fruits, noodles etc but also some very unique marketplaces.  Walking through the riverside town of Long Xuyen our eyes and ears were treated to seeming never-ending displays of brightly colored food.  Notice that I didn’t say our noses?   Astoundingly, having been to many markets where I had to practically hold my breath and nose, the open stalls at Long Xuyen were not only exceptionally clean, but also surprisingly devoid of noxious smells.

According to our guide, the  markets see brisk business everyday.  New foodstuffs are lined up every morning and by early afternoon almost all of it is gone.  As you see above, the quality is high.  Here are some more tasty-looking items:

I have never seen so many different colored and sized eggs!

There were lots of choices in smoked fish:

And even though these were not particularly enticing to me, the meats were also quickly scooped up:

Look at the size of these frogs!

And the mounds of squid:

What really astounded me was the amount of live animals swimming around in fresh water, unaware they were going to be someone’s meal soon:

Inexplicably, some plucked chickens made their way onto the fish counter.

Okay, so Long Xuyen’s riverside food stalls may not be necessarily unique to Vietnam, but the next markets are:  the floating markets of Can Tho. In addition, to see them we also became part of the boat traffic in our very own sampan.

Boarding our sampan we gently cruised down the Mekong and soon began to see a few boats on the horizon.  The amount of boats quickly increased until we were in the midst of a beehive of vendors offering their wares:

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Each boat had a pole with an object attached to the top – showing prospective buyers the specialty of the house(boat).

If you needed a quick drink or snack, you got boat service delivery:

This reminded me of the scene in the Bruce Willis movie, “The Fifth Element:”

The amount and quality of produce was astounding:

One proprietor came aboard and gave us a quick lesson in cutting up a pineapple.   Mouth-watering:

I was intrigued seeing lots of clothes hanging from a number of boats – and was soon educated to the fact that the sellers live on these boats and often come from great distances to sell their produce.  The clothes are their own, hanging out to dry from their most recent wash:

While the competition was fierce it all took place with smiles and politeness.  If boats drifted too close together all helped to straighten things out, so  chaos never ensued.

What a fun time!

More fun to come next time with a very special photo-op.

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