We love markets. So our stay in Saigon had to include a stroll around Ben Thanh, a covered market so enormous and densely packed it’s easy to lose your bearings and find yourself wandering in circles. “That dried fish stall looks familiar… ermm… weren’t we here ten minutes ago?”

Every inch of space is filled with stalls selling everything you could ever need. Different trades occupy different sections – textiles; fresh meat and fish, jewellry, fruit and vegetables, clothes, radios, bread, dried fish and condiments, buttons, shoes, coffee… ahhh, coffee. We walked into the market past fishmongers selling eels wriggling in plastic bowls, unfamiliar looking fish flipping idly in large tanks, prawns, squid…. past butchers, their stalls hung with chickens, duck, slabs of rib…past mountains of multi-coloured fruit and vegetables and made a beeline for the coffee stalls. It was that time of day.

From all sides, voices called out for our custom. “Buy here? Good quality! Good prices! You come buy here!”

We picked a particularly colourful stall and the coffee seller pulled out a couple of plastic stools for us to sit on while they ground up some “Chon” coffee beans to make a good, strong Vietnamese-French style coffee. “Chon” is weasel coffee. What, you may ask, is weasel coffee? Chon coffee beans are called thus once they have been eaten by weasels, digested and, shall we say, passed through to the other side. Sufficiently cleaned, the beans are thereafter supposed to have had an especially deep flavour imparted to them. I’d heard of something similar – civet coffee, or some such, which is sold at ridiculous prices in Europe, which has had a similar digestive process applied to it, but this was the first time I’d tried something like this. It was rich, dark, satisfying, lovely coffee with a good kick. In Vietnam they add condensed milk to espresso coffee, just in case. It was pretty good served this way; something about drinking it from little glasses perched on plastic stools as the bustle of the market went on around us made it taste particularly good.

We wandered around and around for another hour or so. We got a bit lost in the textile section – sometimes the spaces between stalls was so narrow you had to step sideways, arms coming out of nowhere to grab you – “You come, you buy, cheap!”. I tried on a skirt that made me look like an elephant. “This makes me look like an elephant” I say. “No, no, no nooooooooo!!! You slim, looks great!”. I felt the sale was more important than the truth at this point so I declined to buy, but further on we bought two Ao Dai – the elegant slimline Vietnamese outfits that women wear – one in bright turquoise, the other sunshine yellow, for our two nieces in Sydney, aged 5 and 3. They looked great in them, by the way….

I bought some water-buffalo-horn teascoops for omiage (the all-important gifts to take back to people in Tokyo) and some delicate, dark-wood, water-buffalo-horn-topped teaspoons for me, at a dollar for six. Water buffalos are everywhere… so I hoped this was a by-product.

Once we were all marketed-out – reaching our market-wandering saturation point – we staggered out into the heat and the sun to look for a taxi. Buzzed up with coffee, we were ready for some lunch. Destination Number Two – Ban Xeo 46A. It was another one of those times of day.

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