ao dai brocade. Ho Chi Minh City

To Market We Go

Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, is a cosmopolitan overstimulating smorgasbord. It is exotic, ancient, new, rich, poor, exciting, and soothing. And that is just in the block where we stayed.

I was with my husband, two grandkids and my daughter. My daughter had lived in Saigon for a year as a teacher. Thus, she was our travel agent and street guide. Our digs were at the Golden Central Hotel, a mid- priced place with a rooftop pool and restaurant. With the street temps in the mid-90s Fahrenheit, I was glad for the pool in the afternoons. The hotel is centrally located to walk to everything you can think of. If you want to see the sights like the opera house, zoo or market, you will get there in half the time by walking. FYI: The city traffic is nuts.

Our first stop was the famous Ben Thanh Market. It is like Pike Market in Seattle, Saturday Market in Portland, and the old Fulton Fish Market in NYC rolled into one. There is raw fish on ice, buckets of shell fish, and squid. There are beautiful silk lanterns, formal Vietnamese “ao dai” brocade dresses, and carved pipes. Shoes, umbrellas, knock-off T-shirts, jade Buddhas, and of course a food court. You just point to something squiggling in a glass jar and the next thing you know it is deep fried with sliced veggies on your plate.

My favorite items at the market were the silk lanterns; they are mesmerizing. The colors, the patterns, and the shapes. I was fixated on the booth displays. All of this art and vibrance stuck between fake Nikes and spikes of raw cane sugar.

lanterns, Ho Chi Minh City

In the outside stalls there are florists. They all have huge arrangements of flowers appropriate for gang mob funerals. But the most fun is watching their floral delivery system. They attach these ginormous four-foot sprays to a small street scooter and somewhere, somehow there is a driver squeezed in between the gladiolas and the palm fronds.

delivery, Ho Chi Minh City

Along with the florists are the greengrocers. The fruit was unrecognizable. There were grapefruit the size of watermelons, melons with skin like alligators, and then there is the dragon fruit. These look like bright red ostrich eggs with claws. To eat these (they come in dark pink and white flesh) you peel all the red tough skin away and slice the inside fruit. It tastes like jicama with sesame seeds inside. Dragon fruit, or pitaya is the fruit of a cactus plant. It is considered a superfood with antioxidants and vitamins, and supposedly it can lower blood pressure. It kind of tasted like, well, nothing. Nothing with moisture and seeds. If I were wandering a desert without water, I’d eat it…maybe. What it is great for is cutting it into shapes and using it as an edible garnish.

fruit, Ho Chi Minh City

My shopping goal at the market was the obligatory small gifts for friends back home. I looked at plastic snow globes, key chains, paper fans, plastic smiling Buddhas, sleeping Buddhas and Buddha heads on key chains. I settled on hand painted bookmarks.

Besides the great photos to be had, the one thing that stays with you after your visit to the Ben Thanh Market is the mixture of the aromas. Cloying incense, deep fried everything reptilian, people smoking, and perfume. It’s akin to taking all your leftovers and putting them in the blender. A lot of olfactory information in one place. It is worth the trip.

Sally Franz and her third husband live on the Olympic Peninsula. She has two daughters, a stepson, and three grandchildren. Sally is the author of several humor books including Scrambled Leggs: A Snarky Tale of Hospital Hooey and The Baby Boomer’s Guide to Menopause

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