Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Vietnam Vignettes: Ho Chi Minh Night Market — Were we dreaming?

When we arrived at the exact place we had been the night before, we expected to find a bustling night market. But instead it was an ordinary street. Both of us wondered if we had mistakenly come to the wrong place. We were really disappointed because we had planned to have dinner at the very busy outdoor seafood barbeque restaurant that we thought would be right where we were standing. We decided to take a walk around the block to be sure we had not simply missed it on another street. The time was about 6:30 and the sun was just setting.

By the time we had walked a couple blocks, we noticed a long procession of folded tents on wheels being pushed towards the middle of the street from all directions. We then realized that we were not dreaming. This was the place all right. We were just about half an hour early. Miraculously, within what seemed like minutes, the dark quiet street transformed into a busy night market. Tents unfolded and tables were set up, barbeques were lit, strings of lights turned on, tonnes of merchandise was organized on tables, and fresh fish and seafood were beautifully displayed in showcases. We walked to the restaurant we had seen the other night and found it ready to serve us dinner as if it had always been there. We sat down at an empty table and contemplated what to order.

Although we had been traveling in South East Asia for two months by this time, we were still overwhelmed by the food choices. We sat there looking at the menu for what seemed to be hours. We knew we wanted fish, but what kind? And what should we choose to go with it that would be typically Vietnamese? Marc noticed the couple at the table next to us seemed to have a handle on the situation. The man was western, but his wife was Vietnamese. They were eating fish and a wonderful side dish. Marc decided to take control (very unlike him, but he was starving and I was not being very helpful!), and went over to ask them what they had ordered. He came back with a smile on his face and told our waiter that the woman at the next table was going to order for us! “What are we having?” I asked. “I’m not sure” Marc replied, “But the guy” he continued, “told me that the food here is outstanding and they have eaten here every night this week”. That was good enough for both of us.

She came by and in a very animated Vietnamese, ordered us one of the most amazing dinners we have ever had. Shortly thereafter a large plate with a beautifully cooked fish (I still don’t know what kind) decorated with mint arrived. And with it a plate of rice wrappers, thinly sliced vegetables and fruit, rice noodles, bean sprouts and a variety of freshly cut herbs and greens, with dipping sauce on the side. We were looking a bit confused, so the waiter came by and showed us how to put it all together. You take the rice wrapper in your hand and put a few pieces of all of the ingredients from the vegetable plate into the middle of it. Then you add a few pieces of the steaming hot fish with mint to the mixture and roll it up. You then dip this roll into the dipping sauce and the rice wrapper miraculously softens around the mixture of heavenly ingredients. The taste sensation when biting into this roll is out of this world.

We spent the next hour enjoying our meal while watching the market, and our restaurant fill up with locals and tourists. The greatest part about the best of Vietnamese food is in the simplicity of it. Fresh fish, fresh vegetables and fruit, noodles and greens, delicately combined with savory and spicy sauces. Heavenly.

With our bellies full, feeling great about our meal and the whole experience, we walked back through the market before finding our way back to our hotel.

1 comment:

  1. Wow - the dinner sounds amazing and I'd love to experience a night market. The clothing and textiles in the photos of the 3-day trip you took are beautiful - as is the scenery. I think I'd like Vietnam!